I love gaming as much as anyone else, more so than most probably. I like all sorts of games too, from turn-based RPGs to beat-em-ups to sports. There are so many different types of games and so many different types of genres that it feels overwhelming sometimes. Amidst all of this is the oft missed genre of educational games. The thing is games don’t need to be labeled “educational” in order to actually be educational. In fact, the further from that distinction we get, the better educational games will get.
I believe that games like Minecraft, Civilization, Sim City, have a strong place in the classroom. Minecraft, for one, helps immensely with understanding geometry and special recognition. Learning geometry out of a book, or building a square shaped house; which do you think the average student would choose today? What’s more, which method do you think the student would more quickly retain and practice?
How about Civilization or Sim City; I’m sure that most kids would rather play history than experience it. To be fair playing Civilization isn’t exactly the same as “playing history”, and I’m certainly not advocating that kids stop reading books. My feeling is that traditional methods of teaching are still as relevant as ever but would benefit from being supplemented by games. Almost every game teaches something. Some games contribute little to education beyond reflex training but even that has some benefit to physical education. Games teach problem solving and reasoning, cause and effect, deduction, teamwork and all sorts of other real world skills.
I’d argue that even some of the worst offenders in gaming like Call of Duty have more to offer than meets the eye at first glance. Playing CoD by alone amongst a sea of angry, hateful jerks is obviously bad. I can’t stress how not good that is for young kids. But what if it wasn’t like that? Yes, Call of Duty has guns and violence, but it also promotes a high level of teamwork and on-your-feet problem solving. Imagine if the kids in a 6th grade class were split up into teams and competed in weekly tournaments against one another. Kids could either compete at school or in their own homes, and matches would always be overseen by a teacher.
At first this idea sounds utterly ridiculous, right? Promoting the idea of 6th graders playing CoD? Well let’s talk about a few details. First off, substitute Call of Duty for Splatoon or even Team Fortress 2 and you do away with a lot of the gore. Also, by having the matches overseen by a teacher you can control the type of language that’s used, avoiding the typical deluge of awful things that kids hear in anonymous games. If each week the teams were shuffled it would also help prevent kids from creating cliques and possibly even promote new friendships. It’s not necessarily a perfect idea, and it’s not one that I think most schools would be keen on supporting just yet, but it helps build a case for my main point; kids are playing games anyway.
Let’s be real for a second; lots of kids play video games whether they do it for educational reasons or not. If you’ve ever played Call of Duty it’s easy to see just how many kids are online already. The “Kids should be outside and not in front of the TV” ship has sailed. Kids are gaming more than ever these days whether it’s on a brand new PS4 or their mom’s old iPhone. That’s simply not going to change. Gamin g is as much a part of kid’s culture now as TV was 50 years ago. I’m certainly not suggesting that we give up on the real world. Kids should go and play outside, but during the times that when they’re gaming, why not channel that time towards doing something at least somewhat worthwhile. If a kid is going to play Call of Duty anyway, why not make that time at least somewhat productive. Again, I’m not suggesting that gaming, especially violent gaming, is a great thing to promote, but I think the reality of the situation is that it’s happening anyway, so why not maximize its benefit and minimize it’s harmfulness.
As I just stated, kids today play a lot of games. The thing is, not a lot of great games are targeted at them anymore. In the 80’s and 90’s the best games featured cartoony, child-like graphics, and stories that the average 8-12 year old could grasp. Today, the games that win the most praise are often riddled with violence, strong language, and situations that most parents probably aren’t ready to expose their child to. By contrast, kids get the occasional Nintendo game (and their pretty great, admittedly) and typically a bunch of what I called ‘Grandma fodder’; games that are utterly terrible but your grandma buys them for you because they have Transformers or The Incredible Hulk in the title.
I raise the point about kid’s getting force fed bad games because I think that if the 8-14 year old market was better recognized, maybe kids would have good alternatives to Call of Duty. Circling back, I think that if we were to encourage kids to play games in healthy ways that promoted learning and teamwork that it might promote sales, and by doing so might make publishers start to take note of gamer kids again. All of this might coalesce into some great games being made for kids again, instead of them being forced to either play baby games, terrible games, or grown-up games.
I certainly don’t believe that kids are completely cut out of the gaming picture, but I truly believe that there are a lot of ways that we could be improving the way children consume video games. Gaming offers a really novel new way to present kids with much needed education and socialization in an interactive environment. And again, gaming isn’t going away so the world needs to accept that and understand that it can be used as an incredible tool for positive growth in the lives of kids.