Why Education Needs to Embrace Videogames Instead of Fighting Them

Imagine your government teacher eschewing the virtues of capitalism, and then, suddenly, he awakes you out of your daydreaming (to snag you, no doubt) with the words “Would you kindly answer the question?” What question, you ask yourself, and then déjà vu intercedes for save, and you not only recall the question, but begin to counter his point by espousing the dangers of capitalism; all thanks to your friend Ken Levine and 2K (a.k.a. Irrational Games). The relationship between the world of educators and students and video game developers and kids is one misunderstood by both parties. This misunderstanding arose because both parties seem ignorant of each other’s similarities. So, instead of finding a common ground to create a symbiotic relationship, both parties appear to be the other’s aggressor; so far from the truth, that not even Master Chief could shed effect change. As an English teacher and gamer, the connections, possibilities, and opportunities to tap into kids inherent passion for learning are right in front of me. I use my knowledge of video games to identify with kids’ interests and then connect their own experiences, to a video game, then to piece of literature or writing form. Since I started taking advantage of games to teach, I have kids that actually do their homework, and care its quality.
Sure, there exists some validity to educators’ resistance to the idea of using games, mainly because it’s a risk. Educators are most aware of the ones that make the news, for example, Grand Theft Auto: a title notorious for violence and the reinforcement of power, respect, and money through thuggish violence. But even that game, given the appropriate context, perhaps sociology, psychology, or law enforcement classes teaching anti-social behavior, the game can be a valuable learning tool. According to James Paul Gee, a Professor of Reading in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “Real learning is not about “facts”-but about having such deep experiences of the world…that the facts become part of what it takes to “play the game” or take on the identity.”
The video game industry teaches kids archetypal storytelling, history as far back and as diverse as the Greek Gods, as well as mathematics, and art. Halo is archetypal storytelling. By becoming Master Chief and embarking on the journey to save the human race, you become a classic hero, like Odysseus. The Odyssey would make a great video game. Imagine playing Geometry Wars in your 10th grade math class, you might look forward to 3rd period. What if your 11th grade history teacher asked you to recreate Bunker Hill in the World of Warcraft as an assignment, and explain the tactical strategy with that as a visual? You might sound enthusiastic answering your parents’ ol’ “How was school today?” These opportunities have not been taken. Teachers can use these connections to reach students’ interests. But, how many classrooms have you been in where this is happening?

Education wants its students to learn how to create knowledge, to be lifelong learners, and instill the individual with responsibility and open-mindedness. This goal is often achieved, but it also manages to turn off millions of kids to learning. Too often, kids feel alienated by a curriculum that ignores them and by teachers who lack the cultural tools to reach them. Youth continue to evolve, and so must educator’s tools to reach students. The same classroom that teaches “Self Reliance” crushes its message if the teacher fails to recognize the state of youth at the present moment, as individualism reaps lesser rewards than conformity. Conformity actively teaches passivity: study for test to pass the test and move on; get it over with. Teachers don’t want this. The NCLB (No Child Left Behind Act) is antithetical to an educator’s mission. They strive to help kids do the best they can in world that offers challenging rewards. Education wants to create active learners, but in an age where screens and images make up the majority of accessible knowledge, facts and books can’t compete with the level of engagement that video games offer children.

The onus of the issue, though, lies not with the educators to bring video games into their classrooms, but with the developers to create gateways to education market. Education wants them, but with strong well-developed characters, safe immersive environments and experiences, and problem solving beyond speed, point and shoot, or seek and destroy. Educators want to be educated; this is where the developers become teachers. Developers should be experts with trying on others’ shoes; after all, what does FPS really stand for?

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