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Video Games – the new highway to learning and personal growth

Part 1: Exploring their strong potential in education

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Since 2003 the time Americans spend on playing video games has doubled (Ingraham) and the total revenue of the Video Game industry in 2018 was higher than $43 billion (Shieber), a good proof that video games are more than a trend. At the same time, violent video games (not all games) are viewed as a scapegoat for mass shootings and outbreaks of violence that are cutting deep scars into the American society.

On the one side, there are findings, like the one from the American Psychological Association which argue that there is a true correlation between playing video games and an increase in violent behavior, while other studies fail to find evidence to support this view and take issue with this. (Cunningham et al.; DeCamp).It is not the first time the society is divided over whether a new cultural product is for its benefit or not. Some decades ago, reading comic books was blamed for the rise of juvenile delinquency (Springhall) while rock ‘n’ roll music was, among others, associated with the fear of racing mixing once black and white teenagers could socialize and dance together (“Rock ‘N’ Roll And “Moral Panics”).

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Usplash

The main question is whether video games can be used in our learning process. Can they transform the ways we learn and make us enjoy the process and simultaneously help us develop as personalities through the acquisition of skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and empathy?

My answer could be only positive, and I will mention just three examples coming from the digital world that can make us reconsider the potential of video games in education.

Never Alone http://neveralonegame.com/ , which is the story of an Iñupiaq girl and her fox, belongs to the new genre of video games called “World Games”, and introduces gamers to the Alaska Native culture. As a whole, this genre attempts to show how video games can be used as tools of transmitting a culture; players travel through the amazing landscape of Alaska (Sinclair) ; video games, here, suggest a new form of story-telling that can appeal more to the youngsters of our time (The New Yorker; The Future of Storytelling).

Minecraft, the online, updated version of Lego, has been used in language learning (Karsenti et al. ) by many educators in order to cultivate students’ creativity, collaboration and engagement, which are the so-called 21st century skills, and are so essential in our everyday, academic and professional life, while using games at schools is considered to be “the world’s leading cultural industry”. It is this very high engagement that allows full immersion and keeps students motivated to keep learning through playing. Collaborative learning aligns with the principles of multimodality and participatory culture skills that entail critical thinking (Jenkins). 

Life is Strange is a video game which won the best story at BAFTA game awards. Except for its story, though, the whole game is about our decisions and how things could have been different if we had chosen a different path. In case the player is an English language learner, the language used is absolutely authentic with idioms and slang just like the way natives speak it in their everyday interactions.

While not a silver bullet, video games, along with the right instruction and activities, can potentially rejuvenate mundane teaching both online and onsite. But why?

Video games follow good learning practices we need in our schools more than ever, Professor James Paul Gee notes. As a video game player, a student learns the importance of real commitment if s/he wants to perform well and the same should happen in our classrooms; we need students’ full engagement. Games offer the information a player needs the moment s/he needs it- something a coursebook cannot do; what is more, a coursebook cannot interact with the student. In a gamified environment, players are like “writers not just readers”, as Gee notes, in the sense that they are asked to make decisions and take action during the game, they take risks without being afraid of failing; on the contrary, in a game, failure is a useful experience.

These are only some of the traits video games have that could radically change our school system and reshape our way of thinking about ourselves and the world. When students are exposed for so many hours to their digital devices, what if we use this new lifestyle to channel and inspire a new kind of education to both kids and adults?

Works cited

Cunningham, Scott et al. “Violent Video Games And Violent Crime”. Southern Economic Journal, vol 82, no. 4, 2016, pp. 1247-1265. Wiley, doi:10.1002/soej.12139.

DeCamp, Whitney. “Who Plays Violent Video Games? An Exploratory Analysis Of Predictors Of Playing Violent Games”. Personality And Individual Differences, vol 117, 2017, pp. 260-266. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.paid.2017.06.027.

Gee, James Paul. “Learning By Design: Good Video Games As Learning Machines”. E-Learning And Digital Media, vol 2, no. 1, 2005, pp. 5-16. SAGE Publications, doi:10.2304/elea.2005.2.1.5.

Ingraham, Christopher. “It’S Not Just Young Men — Everyone’s Playing A Lot More Video Games”. Washington Post, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/07/11/its-not-just-young-men-everyones-playing-a-lot-more-video-games/.

Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century [Ebook] (pp. 4,35). The MIT Press. Retrieved from https://www.macfound.org/media/article_pdfs/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

Karsenti, T., Bugmann, J, and Gros, P. P. (2017) Transforming Education with Minecraft? Results of an exploratory study conducted with 118 elementary-school students. Montréal : CRIFPE.

Life is Strange. Life Is Strange Episode 1 Launch Trailer (PEGI). 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YznXuKwJtMg.

“Minecraft Education Edition”. Https://Education.Minecraft.Net/, https://education.minecraft.net/.

“Resolution On Violent Video Games”. Apa.Org, 2015, https://www.apa.org/about/policy/violent-video-games.

“Rock ‘N’ Roll And “Moral Panics” – Part One: 1950S And 1960S – University Of Southern Indiana”. Usi.Edu, 2017, https://www.usi.edu/news/releases/2017/02/rock-n-roll-and-moral-panics-part-one-1950s-and-1960s/.

Shieber, Jonathan. “Video Game Revenue Tops $43 Billion In 2018, An 18% Jump From 2017 – Techcrunch”. Techcrunch, 2019, https://techcrunch.com/2019/01/22/video-game-revenue-tops-43-billion-in-2018-an-18-jump-from 2017/?guccounter=1&guce_referrer_us=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_cs=dtCCpC6Mso_TuCzuvLRvVA.

Sinclair, Brendan. “Never Alone To Have Company In “World Games” Genre”. Gamesindustry.Biz, 2015, https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2015-03-02-never-alone-may-have-lots-of-company-in-world-games-genre.

Springhall, John. “‘Horror Comic’ Panic: Campaigning Against Comic Books In The 1940S And 1950S”. Youth, Popular Culture And Moral Panics, 1998, pp. 121-146. Macmillan Education UK, doi:10.1007/978-1-349-27458-1_6.

The Future of Storytelling. World Games: Alan Gershenfeld & Amy Fredeen (Future Of Storytelling 2015). 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-aZVPO0L6Q.

The New Yorker. “The Video Game That Attempts To Preserve Native Alaskan Culture”. The New Yorker, 2017.

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