Educational video games are often terrible. If there is a plot, it is often clichéd and boring. The graphics are usually outdated, there’s nothing to shoot, and usually it’s just boring. It really does seem like video games are the next “big thing.” Everything has to be fun and easy to learn. Is this next generation really going to be that much smarter because they grew up with iPads rather than Hotwheels and Dr. Seuss? I can’t help but feel like the people behind those games are trying to convince students that learning should be effortless and fun. It certainly can be, but not all the time. I don’t think it’s necessarily about making everything fun for students. I think Gee said it best with his “better principles of learning.” Depending on their motivation, students’ attention span will always be what it is. They are not going to learn just because school subjects suddenly became fun. He is suggesting that teachers should teach smarter; they should try new and innovative teaching strategies for a changing student population. One of those strategies, coincidentally, happens to be video games.

As I mentioned before, I think purely educational video games tend to be boring. No student would play them for fun. I did, however, find this list, and I think it is excellent. Most if not all the games on the list are great because they weren’t meant to be didactic. But they do emphasize valuable skills such as resource management, problem solving, and careful decision making while immersing players in an incredible universe. According to Gee, “good” games are designed so that they emphasize active and critical learning and thinking.” This is where those games succeed. While not on the list, one of the first video games I played was Age of Empires. It taught me that there was a right way and a wrong way to attac
k enemy fortifications. I learned that the Phoenician navy could fire faster than enemy ships and the Egyptian chariots were sturdy and maneuverable for quick attacks. That game made me want to learn more about the depicted civilizations. Rice University is doing something similar and interesting by
actually offering a course using Skyrim as a way to teach Scandinavian and Norse mythology. This wouldn’t be the first time either; apparently the University of Florida once used Starcraft as a way of teaching management skills.

Bogost made an interesting point when he said that the association of video games with leisure is not entirely true. He stated that it is “a by-product of a misunderstanding of the nature of play.” His idea of play reminded me of our earlier classroom discussion regarding amateur remixes. I like to think that students can learn from other sources other than texts. Recently, new and improved games with much more powerful graphics engines and seamless AI such as Assassin’s Creed III have been released (Assassin’s Creed, however, is a historical-fantasy game so using that to study the American revolution would be a bit like watching Braveheart to study Scottish independence). And at the end of the day, I highly doubt that other popular games such as Call of Duty or Halo are going to find a niche in the classroom; students can’t shoot comma splices in the face or blow up bad writing. While I’m thrilled to learn that video games are now being looked at as a possible learning tool rather than an incredible waste of time, I’m still not sure how video games could transfer over into a composition classroom without ruining the genre.

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4 comments on “

  1. I think your post touches on a key tension in composition – what are we teaching when we teach composition? Are we teaching them to write? Are we teaching them to think? Are we acting as gatekeepers and teaching them to act like college students? Everyone probably answers that differently Your blog suggests that a key component in composition is teaching students how to learn, which I think is really interesting. Video games, then, definitely fit the bill by encouraging students to take an active role in their education, to question and reevlauate choices, and be both strategic and collaborative. I wonder what our student learning outcomes would be if they were refocuses on the goal being “learning how to learn.”

  2. Bogost says towards the later part of the article, “…playing video games is a kind of literacy. Not the literacy that helps us read books or write term papers, but the kind of literacy that helps us make or critique the systems we live in.”

    I wonder how valueable this might be in the creation of new educational games? I was a business/public administration undergraduate student at University of San Francisco and we had to employ many creative ways to discuss and demonstrate policy decisions we would have made in a “mock government.” Our success as arbitrators, legislators, and managers was dependent on the positive majority response of our cohort and other cohorts in the program. So, in short, people we had never met. This is not unlike the representation of a body of people in real government.

    As the ethical and moral implcations were discussed regarding the McDonald’s game and then the Army’s version of training camp/simulated warfare, I couldn’t help but wonder if this kind of simulated interaction by public administrators in their own “government games,” for lack of a better term, might produce more wholly capable representatives. There could be games that involve the redistricting of cities, simulated trials of manager’s being sued for violation of FMLA laws, point gain for using ethical campign practices and fundraising, town hall meetings….the list is endless in possibility. Questioning and re-evaluating choices during the simulation may promote better choices by our future leaders in the public sector.

    Reading this article and your response is the first time I have ever considered video games in the light of positive possibilities for education. I do not think all of the educational games need to be “boring” as you put it. I am not pretending that they haven’t been in the past. I have experienced them much in the way that you have. Nor am I pretending this method would be a “fix all.” But, I do believe that something of this nature could supplement a serious program that concentrates on producing upcoming leaders of this state and country.

  3. I’m with you on much of what you have to say here! For example, I learned the word “cataphract” from AoE… and I want Civ V, but I fear for my life domain. It seems plausible to use games, and not the boring educational ones you mention, to establish precursor domain knowledge (schema?) for academic work in different modes. A roomful of Assassin’s Creed players are likely to be more receptive to a variety of historical readings (depending on the edition) than those without those hours and hours of experience. I suspect that as our institutions take a greater interest in gaming there may come a crop of really good games that encompass academic material or are just so rich and compelling in terms of art and storyline that they make great fodder for written critique, just as novels once did.

  4. Thanks for the list of video games that you provide in your post, I intend on checking all of them out. In terms of how to incorporate video games in the composition classroom, I think you touch a bit on that with your assessment of the games in the list you provide You mention that what is great about the games is that they are not didactic, but assist with problem solving, critical learning and thinking, all necessary components in writing and part of the overall structure we aspire to get across to our students. While the video games may not have a direct one-to-one correlation to composition writing, they can grapple with organizational components necessary in good composition writing. Additionally, asking students to reflect on the assumptions present in the game(s) much like we did in last evening’s class, could be an actual writing component incorporated within the class, i.e. reflective response paper, difficulty paper, or even a group analysis.

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