Video Games: Educational Tool or Agression-Maker?

stock-photo-18657081-serious-young-man-playing-video-gamesI’ve never been a gamer. I’ve never understood the appeal of spending multiple hours interacting with a static screen; I’d   rather read a good book that truly has the power to transport me to another time and space while challenging my conceptual understanding or sense of self. Moreover, I’ve always considered the negative aspects of video games, and it appears that studies seem to support this view. Wolfe (2010) tell us that “…dozens of psychological studies indicate that paying these games increases aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors” (p. 104). Repeated exposure to violence, as many games are violent has negative effects as well, “…some studies indicate that repeated exposure to violent episodes in a game results in players’ suppressing their emotional responses…desensitizes players to aggression and violence” (Wolfe, 2010, p. 104). Stuart Brown, MD reiterates this cautionary refrain in Play “When someone is gaming or watching a screen, there is no engagement in the natural world, no development of the social nuances that are part of maturation in us as a social species” (p. 183). Brown discusses the prevalence of video game addition in developing countries, with addicts described as people that “…compulsively play video and computer games to the point that they experience sleep deprivation, disruption of normal life, and even a loosened grip on reality” (p. 177). I’ve been know to stay up past (way past) my bedtime reading a good book, but I’ve never lost my grip on reality or caused a disruption to my normal life; I’m just sleepy the next day.

However, if I’ve learned one thing since beginning my M. Ed. program it’s that my experiences and learning preferences do not necessarily hold true for all learners. Wolfe (2010) balances her viewpoint with the reminder that there are positive and negative aspects of playing video games, especially those with an educational focus, “Well designed educational games can be natural teachers by focusing on critical skills, providing immediate specific feedback, adapting to individual learners, and providing opportunities to practice to the point of mastery” (p. 103). Bridget McCrea 2013 article titled Game-based Learning Is Playing for Keeps, also believes in the power of interactive video games as an educative tool, “To help teachers and students…the Institute of Play created Playforce, a searchable database of games with learning potential. Users can explore games related to specific content, academic standards, or 21st-century skills such as empathy, systems thinking, or collaboration” (pp. 2-3).

It seems that gaming can be a powerful emotional elixir as well, as it allows players to role-play personas that they most likely otherwise would never be able. Truly, how many of us will have the opportunity to be a Princely warrior, other than, well, Prince Harry? Or a NFL football star? The chances are few and far between. Indeed, Brown tells us that, “Play…is about stepping outside of normal life and breaking normal patterns. It is about bending rules of thought, action, and behavior” (p. 193). While this “bending of rules” can have dire consequences if someone’s play persona infringes upon or takes over their real-life (read video game addicts) for many, perhaps a healthy psychological need is fulfilled, one where role playing occurs in a safe and neutral setting. Educators understand the importance of role play in working through potentially emotionally charged situations so it stands to reason that through gaming role play, that individuals that want to “try on” a persona that they otherwise would not have access to allows for an opportunity to explore an inner desire. Perhaps it is telling to note that the Top 5 Selling Video Games of 2012, according to the Huffington Post are Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Madden NFL 13, Halo 4, Assassin’s Creed III, and Just Dance 4. I’m not sure what Halo 4 is (and probably don’t want to), but the others sound suspiciously like warrior-football-dance star games.

Ironically, the first time that I was able to acknowledge the power of video games occurred in the classroom during IT time with my Grade 5 students. When not working on a special project or practicing keyboarding skills, students were “allowed” to use the last ten or fifteen minutes of class to play online games from a few vetted websites. All the games were math or language based, and the students loved them! I don’t have any experience using video games in the classroom at the middle school level, but found the following 10 Free Educational Game Sites with a simple Google search, and I’m sure there’s many more out there.

References

Brown, Stewart. (ND). Does Play Have a dark side? From Play. (pp. 175-193).

Guarini, Drew. 1.11.2013. The Top Selling Video Games Of 2012 Amid Another Down Year For The Industry. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/11/top-selling-video-games-2012_n_2456680.html#slide=1970610

Gaming photo retrieved from http://www.istockphoto.com/search/text/video%20gaming/source/basic#15310fe2

McCrea, Bridget. 2013. Game-based Learning Is Playing for Keeps. The journal: FETC. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/Articles/2013/01/23/Game-based-Learning-Is-Play

Wolfe, Patricia. 2010. Brain Matters 2nd Edition. ASCD: Alexandria, VA.

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