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Part 13: The Role of Video Games
in the Education of Young People
Oregon State University Student
The previous article in this series (http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2014-143.html)
suggested that the punch line is the central element in jokes. Our
understanding of the physical and social world suggests how a joke's
narrative will probably end. Laughter is the release when the punch
line provides an unexpected conclusion. Our survival as humans depends
on our ability to foresee and effectively respond to unexpected events.
Humor helps to develop this capability in young people in a pleasant,
non-threatening manner that we maintain throughout adult life. Gossip
and play/games play similar roles in that both deal with unexpected
outcomes and the responses that people develop.
Sean Sylwester’s Perspectives
Play and games occupy much of early life. Play is unstructured behavior
as children master arm/leg movements, share toys, interact with
unrelated friends, etc. Children soon begin to compare their
capabilities with others and that's what organized rule-bound games and
sports do. Most of us enjoy games at one level or another throughout
life. Video games have already expanded substantially during the 21st
century and this expansion will seemingly continue.
I have long been fascinated by video games. I’ll begin my university
program in electrical engineering this fall, hoping to participate in
the probable advances that will occur in simulations and video game
technology. What follows is the role that I believe video games
played during my earlier years—the things I thought I learned better
through video games than during school activities.
Perhaps the most important thing for my generation is that video games
became our initial gateway to learn about computers. We have played
computerized video games as long as most of us can remember. Video
games gave us something that was fun to do on the computer. They thus
encouraged us to explore the technology in a way that we probably never
would have done otherwise. Video games allowed us to become comfortable
with the basic technology of computers. Computers and other forms of
electronics are all around us, and their impact on our society will
only increase. The natural development of this skill was thus
invaluable for my generation.
In addition to providing me with a fun way to explore computer
technology, video games also helped me in my mental development. Video
games supplemented my education in many ways, and sometimes taught
me entirely new things. For example, school instruction rarely
encouraged me to solve puzzles. Math and physics classes were based on
strict formulas, and teachers tended to discourage us from thinking
creatively to solve a problem. Teachers would usually show us one
specific way of doing a problem, and then ask us to use the formula in
solving the problems they gave us. They rarely explained the logic
behind the solution. Video game challenges were fortunately able to
fill in this gap for me.
Many current video games have some element of a puzzle or unexpected
twists incorporated within them. These include "pure" puzzle games in
which solving the puzzle is the entire point of the game, and a
staggering variety of these games is on the market for anyone and
everyone–first-person or third-person, 3D or 2D, fast-paced action or
slow-paced strategy, physics-based or not. Each new game uses new
concepts and explores new ideas, encouraging the player to think in
different ways. Many popular video games now include puzzles as a
secondary focus. These games encourage and reward players who use
creativity in their strategy. Developers realize that they must move
the field forward in order to sell their games to increasingly
The development of team-based communicative and collaborative skills is
also central to many current video games. I often found this lacking in
school instruction. These skills were used in extracurricular
activities such as team sports and out-of-school clubs, but they
weren't always demonstrated effectively within classrooms. Sports
tended to be run by coaches who expected players to do what they were
told. I lost interest in team sports at about the fourth grade, and
instead learned many social skills through multiplayer video games.
Most Internet games today are multiplayer (see multiplayer video games in
Resources). Many players connect to the same game over the Internet,
and the teams that emerge have to then figure out how to work together
towards the video game goal, generally against a competing team of
players. Players can generally communicate with each other by keyboard
interaction or by talking over a microphone. These kinds of games are
generally "real time" so quick action is important. The team with
better collaboration, coordination, and communication generally wins.
Development of these skills (and sometimes fast typing) are the keys to
success, but the games have many formulas. School instruction does
often incorporate group projects, but it is rarely the principal focus
of the lesson. Like others who also stopped playing sports, video games
played a very influential role in developing my social and
collaborative skills. So whether I played online with friends I knew in
real life or was matched with random players from across the country,
the games developed my mental, physical, and social skills in the same
way as sports and other extracurricular activities did for my
classmates (see multiplayer video game explanation and cooperative multiplayer video game explanation in Resources).
Classroom instruction seems to have a built-in rigidity. Although most
students learn in different ways and at an individual pace, teachers
have to work with the whole group, so instruction is often focused on
the average students or even on the lowest level students. This not
only jeopardizes the learning of students who might not learn in that
way, but it also risks losing the focus of students who want to learn
at a faster pace.
Video games are thus a more versatile teaching tool, because they let
players work at their own individual pace. They're designed to fit
individual learning. Lecture or discussion based classes work pretty
well for most students although this is becoming a contested point (see
Kagan in Resources). Most
instruction occurs this way. I had no trouble learning in this style,
but I've found that I learned much more quickly and deeply, and
I retained the information much more easily, when I learned the
concepts on my own without disapproval from teachers. Video games
provided my generation with that non-threatening option.
Video games can help some students learn in a more efficient way, more
easily maintaining the student’s motivation for learning. Struggling to
learn in a way that doesn't suit a particular student, or being made to
work much faster or much slower than the student would prefer often
diminishes their motivation in school. Solving many of these major
problems through supplementary classroom video games could help all
students succeed in their own way. Understanding video games as a
positive form of learning and building on it could do wonders for
school test scores and high school graduation rates (see Another Perspective in Resources).
The next article will take this issue one step further, into the development of increasingly effective teaching machines.
IAE Newsletter realizes the
existence of good school programs that seek to solve the criticism Sean
provides. Many are directed to inservice rather than to preservice
teachers. That these programs tend to be well-received by teachers
suggests that, once teachers begin to teach, many seek to improve their
instruction in the ways that Sean suggested:
Sean Sylwester recently graduated from South Eugene High School. He
has long been interested in computer games. He will begin a major in
Electrical Engineering at Oregon State University this fall, with a
focus on the technologies involved in simulations and video gaming.
Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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