5 Myths about Video Games, Busted

Video Games are easy to hate. If you are a boss, parent or teacher, they are work stoppers, conversation killers and time wasters. If you are a gamer, they are the first think you pick up in the morning and the last thing you do before bed. It’s all a question of perspective. But from a critical point of view, are video games damaging? Depending who you ask, you might be surprised at the results. These complex pedagogical platforms are not just good, they are good for you. The following are some myths and misconceptions that are just begging to be busted.

 1. VIOLENCE IN VIDEO-GAMES MAKES KIDS VIOLENT

A generation of POV killers

Easy to believe. Judging by the popularity of certain P.O.V shooter games, being involved in seemingly endless wholesale massacre is a popular theme amongst this generation. All of this violence must have some effect on these impressionable minds. Yet, besides some recent well-documented firearm rampages, the youth population remains relatively docile.

Ah, but those Colombine kids and the Dawson College shooter were all avid video-gamers. Yes, that’s because they are part of over 80% of school-aged kids in America who play video games. If these games are designed to make killers out of kids, then they have been disastrously unsuccessful.  Cracking the riddle of why America has the highest number of gun-related deaths of any industrialized country is going to take a little bit more work than that.

After all, games that have violence as a theme tend to be merely an extension of existing pop-culture tropes. Grand-Theft Auto exploits the most clichéd of all TV inspired cop storylines. Other violent games perpetuate everything from timeless mythology to realistic portrayals of real historical events. Any serious examination of the nature of violence in our society should goes deeper than your Playstation.

2. VIDEO GAMES ROT THE BRAIN

Hate to break it to you gramps, but video games have changed since your pimple-faced youth wrestling with Atari Joysticks. Today’s games are sophisticated platforms offering complex and compelling experiences. Games like Pacman and Donkey Kong are mind-numbing repetitive in comparison. There is a reason we don’t play them anymore.

Mindless pursuit anyone?

Let’s not confuse today’s games with TV or 80s arcade games. Games have changed. A simple analysis of a typical commercially successful video game on the market today will show engagement on all levels of cognitive activity. Not just simple eye-hand coordination, but all types of thinking according to Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Lets have a look at the learning going on, taking the popular game Grand Theft Auto as an example:

Knowledge:          In order to progress in the game, the player has to memorize several game patterns, as well as maps, weapon specifications and numerous other game related factors.

Comprehension:              Players are given tasks or “jobs” to perform that require the player to interpret and understand a wide range of data.

Application :       Resources and proficiencies are key to survival in this game. Players are constantly managing these resources in the most effective manner.

Analysis:              Through trial and error, the player is put to unraveling a complicated puzzle that requires processing enormous amounts of data.

Synthesis:           A combined application of resources, abilities, knowledge and experience are the tools needed to move forward and survive.

Evaluation:          The player is constantly given formative feedback and strategies are regularly tested. In order to maintain a strong position, a successful player is one who can predict outcomes and evaluate their own standing in the game.

Doesn’t sound like rotting to me. If anything, gamers are the cerebral equivalent of those health freaks who spend the whole day at the gym working on their triceps.

Working my massive occibital lobe

3. VIDEOGAMES RUIN KIDS ATTENTION SPAN

Some recent and woefully unscientific studies have shown that sustained exposure to intense imagery on a screen can cause a decrease in focused attention on important stuff like books and monologues. Even Obama is in on the action telling kids to put down the video games and read a book.

It is an easy thing to believe. But the fallacy begins at equating Video Games with TV, as most of these studies do. They may look the same, but they work in completely different ways. TV is a passive experience, made by nebulous content providers removed from the audience by a veritably Diocletian production apparatus. It is what techno-scholars like Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessing, call Read-only (R/O) media: one-way street of information that profits from the viewer’s submission and cooperation.

Video games are designed as Read/Write (R/W) media: players are at the very least reactive and at best creatively pro-active in their consumption of the product. The user is involved in an interactive experience with clear notions of self-determination.

OK, so they both involve staring at a screen. The similarities pretty much end there.

It may come as no surprise that he most popular games on the market are also the most engaging for players, with complicated level structures, multi-players and challenging but attainable goals. A typical gamer can sustain several hours of uninterrupted play without losing interest; quite a different claim from that made by these studies. It is only once the player turns the game off and interacts with the outside world that the lack of attention kicks in.

Once a gamer mind has been engaged in the highly compelling learning environment provided by a video game, it is doubtful that a classroom or library will have any excitement to offer. The problem is not with the kids. The problem is with the classroom.  We are taking them from a hyper-stimulating environment and placing them in a sensory deprivation tank.

By asking kids to put the video games away and pay attention in class, we are abruptly interrupting their education. Some educators have begun to see the potential of games and try to incorporate educational games into curriculum. But making video games more like a classroom is not the answer. Educators are better off learning curriculum from video game designers. Game designers have found a way of creating persuasive and inspiring learning platforms that motivate students of all demographics to take control of their own learning process and engage in difficult challenges. Videogames are doing the very thing educators claim to want to do.

The hardest challenge in exploiting the curriculum design savvy of Ubisoft and Nintendo will be for educators to overcome their technological bias and preconceived notions about video games. In the meantime kids will be getting their video game education whether educators are involved or not.

4. VIDEO GAMERS HAVE NO SOCIAL SKILLS

At first glance, gamers seem like an antisocial lot; deeply focused on the world of Tron and oblivious to the world around them. But there is more going on than meets the eye. Popular games like World of Warcraft (WOW) and Guild Wars to name a few are commonly known as Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). In addition to offering interaction with an extensive and detailed virtual environment, they also implicate their users in an international community of members.

In order to progress in these games and gain access to more compelling challenges, members fall into an intricate social stratification. Players form identity through skill sets, experience and expertise. Most importantly, they forge alliances with other players that are crucial to their advancement in the virtual environment. While they may know each other solely through avatars and online personae, their relationships are genuine, even intimate.

This may not be consistent with the manner in which people interact in the real world, but for introverts and those unskilled in public life it is a thriving society. In many ways it overcomes the drawbacks of interaction in the real world. The social platform provided by these games provides a safe, inclusive and enhanced social experience.

Players who have buried their countenance in MMORGPs do not forgo social interaction. Far from it. They are involved in a sophisticated society that is more compelling than the face to face world. In many ways these social platforms are an improvement on so-called “real world” interactions in that they have shed many of the prejudices that stand as obstacles to interpersonal relationships.

5. KIDS SHOULD SPEND LESS TIME PLAYING VIDEO GAMES AND MORE TIME PLAYING SPORTS OR CHESS OR READING OR SOMETHING….

I’m not saying that everyone should quit school, quit their jobs, lock themselves in a room and play video games for the rest of their lives.  But I wouldn’t recommend it for anything else either. And while many parents restrict their kid’s video game usage, they would boast if their kids spent as much time reading, playing chess or working on math equations.

As a society, we place an irrationally high value on books. And while technology takes the world into the 21st century, kids are scratching their heads wondering what the deal is with these archaic tomes. Their fragile, highly flammable material, their heavy inefficient design, and their rudimentary interface are all completely outdated. Not to mention, they are environmentally wasteful. Yet we covet them like sacred artifacts.

In terms of Blooms Taxonomy, an analysis of book reading shows poor results. It focuses heavily on knowledge, comprehension and psychomotor skills, but requires very little in terms of higher levels of thinking such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation. No interaction, no creation, no challenge. What else is being learned here? Discipline? Tradition?

Parents worried that their video game playing children are becoming introverts should definitely keep their kids away from these anti-social time and energy wasters. You love the tactile feeling, the smell, the convenience of books? No you don’t. You like what you know.

Well, there is always sports. Kids should get out of the house and play. But most kids today are discouraged from freely playing in the streets. Parents and schools tend to favour organized, competitive sports over dangerous exploration and free association with the outside world. Sports like football and hockey involve very aggressive behavior and promote systems of elitism and domination. Not to mention, they can be dangerous. Yet we push it on our kids like a religion.

Parents worried that their video game playing kids are becoming violent and aggressive should definitely keep their kids away from these belligerent, para-military accidents waiting to happen. You love the smell of your old skates, the feel of the pigskin? No you don’t. You like what you know.

So let your kids play their damn video games. Especially now that there are systems like the Wii that are safe, inclusive and available all year round. And enough with the book fetish. You can learn stuff in so many different ways, books just seem ridiculously out-dated. Just be happy your kids have finally found something that they enjoy that is educational. Its OK, they are playing video games, at least they are not watching TV.

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