There are many reasons for the dearth of truly engaging games for the classroom, of course,
including school infrastructure and policies that lock down labs and networks for security reasons,
the difficulty of designing games without the resources of a large development company, and the
attitudes of the parents and administrators who view games with a healthy dose of skepticism.
(Van Eck, 2009)
In my experience the 13 key gaming principles as outlined in Jim Gee’s video Principles on Gaming that support student empowerment, problem based learning and deep understanding are more apt to be built into the generally higher quality COTS games than learning games. Again Van Eck explains:
Many of the educational outcomes we seek to promote in public education, such as problem solving
and critical thinking, are difficult to achieve given the constraints of the real-world classroom.
Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) games make excellent tools for addressing both content-based
and higher-order learning outcomes, and many educators are exploring their use in the classroom.
(Van Eck, 2009)
Secondly by tapping into a style of learning that is growing in popularity meets students at their level and engages them in a unique way. Jane McGonigal addresses this in her popular TED talk Gaming Can Make The World A Better Place where she explains that the rise of gaming should not be considered a negative trend but an exciting movement of unique learners whose potential needs to be tapped and focused to help solve real world problems. (McGonigal, 2010) When confronted with the startling statistic that gamers are spending 3 billion hours a week playing video games, she recognizes this as a positive explaining that these games are making us virtuosos at: urgent optimism, building stronger personal relationships, blissful productivity and epic meaning. (McGonigal, 2010) She concludes her TED talk with the following idea:
Gamers are super empowered, hopeful individuals, they believe they are capable of changing
virtual world. The problem is they are not engaged in saving the real world. Gamers can achieve
more in virtual worlds than in real life. That is rational, but it is not optimal. We need to make the
real world look more like a game. (McGonigal, 2010)
Recognizing the incredible degree of engagement many of our students have with video games compared to traditional classroom activities, steers me toward the idea of using COTS to increase classroom engagement and recognize video games as a legitimate form of student learning. One of the major problems therefore becomes how do you select an appropriate video game, as so many feature content which is violent or overtly sexist. Controversial games such as Call of Duty, or Grand Theft Auto flaunt these characteristics and are clearly not appropriate for any classroom in my opinion. This is further complicated by a widespread belief that there is an association between violence in video games and real life violence. However my preliminary research on the topic demonstrated that this association is vague at best and certainly not conclusive. In the article, The Video Gamer’s Dilemma: Entertainment Versus Morality it explains, “Morality in video games continues to be one of the most controversial and worrying issues that concerns the public today” (Raj, et al, 2014) it further concludes:
Even though ferocious video games, which are actual widespread among youths (Lenhart et al., 2008),
have been exposed to raise violence, other scholars have failed to discovery a relative between
ferocious video game play and violence. (Raj, et al. 2014)
As teachers we have integrated other forms of popular media into our curriculum including popular movies which are plagued with similar patterns of violence and sexism, yet it seems that the current stigma towards video games is stronger. I have seen senior social studies classes show movies like Gladiator, or other popular films which glorify violence. It seems that COTS games are very much a reflection of popular media. Just as you wouldn’t show an 18A movie in class filled with violence and sex, nor would you choose a COTS game with similar content, regardless of the perceived benefits. That being said there are numerous COTS as there are movies that can fit into the learning goals of a program and enhance student engagement. Van Eck provides a few examples of COTS games with strong links to curriculum, “Games that involve existing curriculum areas like math (e.g., the Sim and Tycoon titles), or history (e.g.,Civilization), or science and physics (e.g.,Contraptions), having already been vetted in the marketplace, will be good games.” (Van Eck, 2009) LIke with all material and media that we introduce to students teachers must make informed choice and use common sense. Being aware of risks to safety and privacy is part of our responsibility as educators and while many popular COTS games have no place in any classroom, the rewards and unique learning and engagement provided by some with links to curriculum is worth investigating and integrating into our practice.
Gee, J. P. (2013). Jim Gee Principles on Gaming. Retrieved March 27th, 2014 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aQAgAjTozk
McGonigal, J. (2010). Gaming can make a better world. Retrieved March 29th from http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world
McGonigal, J. (2012). How might video games be good for us? Retrieved March 28th from https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/content/how-might-video-games-be-good-us
Raj S., Kim J., & Kalorth N. (2014) The Video Gamer’s Dilemma: Entertainment Versus Morality, Researchers World: Journal of Arts, Science & Commerce.