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Raising Gamers

Posted by Ad on February 22, 2012

Deseret News had two articles recently about boys and the problems with the way boys are raised in the US, and through osmosis of American ideals via American media throughout the western world.

Article 1, primarily concerning the importance of fathers. Article 2, primarily about sex and violence.

I took an issue with the second article. There’s a lot I agree with, but there’s one thing that the article seems to ignore: the impact of video games on society overall. As video games have become mainstream entertainment, violent crime has gone down significantly. Instead of forming gangs, skating around and spraying stylized text on walls, kids today sit at home, engaged in historical wars, political commentary on modern wars, and the imagined future… of warfare. Among other games, of course.

There’s a huge resource for tangential learning here, tho it must be said that not every boy will be playing the same games, to the same extent, or with the same level of interest. For that matter, games are rated depending on the age they’re deemed inappropriate for. Trying to teach WWII by use of violent video games may be a winning strategy for teenage boys, but would be foolish to attempt on younger students. But the points I’m making is that much like there are documentaries on a wide range of topics, there are games on a wide range of topics.

There’s a game called Osmos that I’ve played. It involves Newton’s Laws of Motion in gameplay modes resembling petri dishes and 2d representations of the solar system. It does all this without never really telling the player the science involved in the gameplay, instead it lets the player experience it himself.

There’s Civilization, a game my cousins introduced me to during the time of the year when soccer and super soaker wars weren’t feasible. Snapshot details of the development of technology and science, the wonders of the world, a simple version of world politics… It’s a game where you run your own empire from the dawn of civilization to 2050 or so.

These cousins also introduced me to problem-solving games by letting me play Monkey Island, a old point-and-click adventure game with one of the most humorous writing in gaming so far. They also introduced me to racing games. We also built castles out of legos and sent hundreds of small plastic men to their calculated deaths. We also ran around in small teams, armed with super soakers, seeking to “kill” the other team.

The Left 4 Dead games, favorites of mine, feature a similar cooperative gameplay as those wars of water. There’s just more things to shoot, more often, and rather than merely seeking to kill the other team, one of the teams seeks to get through what essentially amounts to an obstacle course… while trying to not die. These games are rated 18 and above, so I’d like to see a take on the same cooperative gameplay that the L4D games _requires_ against moderate opposition, in games that younger gamers could play.

Games are a great tool for learning, it’s just a question of finding the right games with the right lessons, without taking the fun out of it. Men want challenges, and I’m sure boys do too. For me and my friends, it’s a challenge to get through a game of L4D at the highest difficulty, a challenge that requires strategy, planning and teamwork. How can’t something similar already have been devised for kids in school? Give the boys a challenge that requires research, planning, trial-and-error, teamwork, building, and a spectacular show. Yes, turn them into Mythbusters.

Games are also competitive. Whether this is SimCity 2000 where you can open a window seeing the size of neighboring cities and seek to surpass them, Left 4 Dead where failure to cooperate can lead to a swift death at the hands of grotesquely deformed formerly human monsters, or board games where learning how the game works is the key to winning; games are competitive. You can even play single-player games competitively, just play against your own high score. Perhaps the failure to engage boys in school is that school isn’t a challenge. Make it a challenge. Give them high scores, let them seek to surpass their own high scores and that of others. Even if they end up with the lowest score in the class, they’ll likely be more engaged than by textbooks. Just make sure to give them diverse and inter-discipline challenges, including such that the less academically inclined can excel in.

My take on the role of games in society and education is that games offer a harmless catharsis, the right games can provide great training for life (eg in co-op games), and that games encourage competition. There are games children should not play, there are games that shouldn’t be played without parental supervision, and there are games that are safe for all game-capable ages.

Of course, not all boys will be engaged by games. Not all children are the same. No two persons are the same. But with games being more and more of a mainstream thing, and with gamification being used to engage people in pretty much everything, kids need to be engaged in learning, both the school stuff and the life stuff. Games are a great tool for this.

Long post. I blame video game writing. It’s often needlessly long (I’m looking at you, stupid Zelda owl).

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