Video Games: A Powerful Medium for Learning with a Bad Wrap

Video Games: A Powerful Medium for Learning with a Bad Wrap

Video games are a collaborative effort. They bring together different people and cultures that would normally never communicate with one another. Hordes of players from different continents and time zones ‘game’ for a shared goal. Despite many of the popular video game titles being interlaced with violence and vulgar material, many games have been published for an educational purpose and can bridge different cultures and teach tolerance and peace. Written by Ryan Schaaf and Nicky Mohan, this is an InfoSavvy21 original.

“We can’t undo the past, we have no idea what the future holds. Today, we have the ability to do something which can shape our lives and the lives of those around us.”
— Unknown

While many observers consider playing video games to be a complete waste of time, gamers play with extreme commitment and passion. What motivates gamers, especially those of the digital generations, to devote countless hours to their gaming worlds; and can education benefit from the use of gaming in the classroom.

Gaming From the Horse’s Mouth

Nicky’s son, Sherwen, is an avid gamer who plays for sheer enjoyment. His two favorite games are Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and FIFA (Soccer game). Sherwen loves the idea that he can play these games at anytime, whether it’s alone or collaboratively with others either in the same room or halfway around the world. In these games, players are known by their usernames – the only discernible identifiers are the flags that represent the players’ countries of origin. In the past while, Sherwen has played with gamers from countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Poland, Italy, and Brazil to name but a few.

Despite coming from different cultures, time zones, and socio-economic backgrounds, Sherwen and the other players compete and collaborate for a shared purpose. During gameplay individual prejudices, cultural backgrounds, age, gender, and religion of other players are non-issues. In game settings, everyone is equal. At the same time, players bring their personal knowledge, backgrounds, and individualism to the game, weaving a powerful social fabric that one could only wish might be duplicated in the real world.

As gamers develop digital online relationships, they are added to personal contact lists and notified when their friends are online, ready to play. As soon as they logon, they join a pool of eager players waiting to enter the contest. The game sessions continue without stop around the clock with players constantly joining and exiting.

In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the game sounds and feels authentic. The game is based on a military storyline where players must complete the objectives assigned. Every chapter of the story has the player taking on a different role in a wartime simulation. The challenge is to solve problems by overcoming obstacles within set parameters. Challenges would include such things as, “You are under orders from the government to take down the terrorists using only certain ammunition and/or tactics.” While this is fantasy, it feels real. In the process, players learn about battlefield tactics, weaponry, technical maneuvers and data analysis. Sherwen’s cousin Rahul, who is a soldier, claims that the game is one hundred percent accurate in terms of the techniques, terminology, and strategies experienced by the players. According to Rahul, he is able to apply what he has learned while playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare to his real life skills as a soldier and a marksman.

The State of Gaming

The term video games elicits many preconceived notions in the digital age. The digital generations continue to flock to them as if it were candy, because to them they are. Nine out of 10 school-aged children (ages 2-17) in the United States play electronic games. Mainstream media continues to be amazed at their popularity, but skeptical as to the effects on gamers, both young and old. Many parents are unsure what to feel about the games. Gartner, the world’s leading information technology research and advisory company, calculated that 2013 annual global sales for video games reached $93 billion dollars and growing.

When adults envision a video game, Grand Theft Auto often comes to mind. With its stunning graphics and action-packed gameplay, Grand Theft Auto is visually compelling and intensely engaging; until you examine the content and storyline. The game is chock full of racial stereotypes, sexism, violence, and vulgarity. Grand Theft Auto is a lightning rod for controversy and debate. After the horrific shooting deaths of 26 children and adults in Newtown, Massachusetts, U.S. congressional hearings were held to determine if violent video games were the cause. Alas, this debate about video games peeks and wanes with the tide of violence and its media coverage in the United States. Violent video games are the ‘black-eye’ of the gaming industry- a black eye game producers are willing to accept because of the popularity and financial profit these games generate.

The problem with examining only violent, racist, and sexual video games is that it masks the potential of video games as powerful learning tools in schools. No one is suggesting the use of Mortal Kombat or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in the classroom with young, impressionable students. But, for every violent video game on the market, there are 50 games parents and teachers can rally behind and agree are worthwhile, fun, and educational for children.

Gaming and Learning

As educators, parents and trainers, what can we learn from the dramatic success of video games? How can we leverage what we have discovered in order to provide better learning experiences for our students? Think about it: Do you ever need to remind your children to play their video games? In fact we often struggle to get them to stop, they are always wanting to play “just a few more minutes”. Why can’t our education system be just as fun and immersive as video games? The answer is quite simple – they can be!

Digital game-based learning, game-based learning and even edutainment can provide today’s generation with powerful and immersive learning experiences. Games just need to shed the bad image and be given a chance.

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