I have mixed feeling about about the amount of violence found in video games. I am often shocked when I hear my students (grade 3) talking about how they watched an episode of “The Walking Dead” on the weekend, and describe all the gory details to their classmates, or when they write a journal entry detailing their entire winter break glued to a screen playing “Call of Duty”. They often seem to have a better knowledge of some of these franchises than I do, which just seems crazy! I don’t really have a problem with all of these first person shooter games, I’ve played them a lot in the past, and enjoy them quite a bit. What worries me though is when kids are playing these games unsupervised, and at such a young age.
I grew up on Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake. Each Iteration of these first person shooter games became more gorey as the graphics and computing power improved. From my first experiences with Wolfenstein I was navigating mazes and killing blocky Nazis with a variety of military weapons. By the time I got to Quake I was dealing with a number of undead zombies and grotesque nightmare creatures. I feel like I was lucky because by the time these games improved to the point where they could realistically represent the violence they allowed you to engage in I was mature enough to draw that line between play and reality. I was a shy, sweet, obedient kid who loved to go home at the end of the day and save the world through a computer screen. Most of my friends were the same way, and none of the violence from these video games transferred over into our adolescent lives. Would things be different if I had started earlier, or been introduced to a game like Quake before being gradually eased in through Wolfenstein and Doom? I’m not really sure, but I do know that even with these experiences, it still makes me uneasy when I see young kids playing these types of games on their own.
I’m not sure how young is too young when it comes to violent games. I started with Wolfenstein when I was roughly 10 or 11. I see my grade 3s playing Minecraft, which has equivalent blocky graphics and the potential for a certain degree of violence (I just recently watched a number of grade 3 boys go on a bunny killing rampage within this environment which we had to have a talk about) and I’m ok with it as long as they don’t get too carried away. Minecraft to me seems more about building and creating then anything else, so I really don’t have a problem with it. I would have a problem with a game being played in class thats only focusing is on shooting bad guys. I think I learned a lot of good things from playing Doom – spatial awareness, basic math, mapping skills and basic hand eye coordination. It also taught me a lot of computer skills that I don’t think I was even aware I was learning. I probably learned just as much typing cheat codes into Doom and Wolfenstein as I did using “all the right type”. These games don’t need to be vilified the way they often are. I’m sure Call of Duty is teaching kids today all the things I learned from Doom, and expanding on them in all kinds of ways. The problem is that these games are teaching them a lot of harmful things as well. What worries me the most is that kids are being parked in front of these games unsupervised and left to their own devices. There are so many great conversations that we can be having with our students around these games and I think it is important to teach kids to think critically about their behaviour in an ingame environment versus their real lives. They need to realize the many consequences that their in game actions may have if tried out in real life. There are so many teachable moments in these games. The trick is to identify them, and have our students take a moment to consider them when they are immersed in that gaming world.
To be perfectly honest, the whole BYOD thing really isn’t on my radar in any practical way during my current teaching assignment. Most of my grade 3s and 4s don’t have a device of their own, and we don’t have the structures in place at my school to use them effectively even if they did. We don’t have a wireless network connection yet, which in my experience has really affected my attempts to introduce mobile technology into the classroom. In addition to this, my school actually has a policy against students bringing any smart devices to school, as there is a fear that these devices will be lost or stolen. The only time that a student has brought a device was during a fun friday afternoon, where the student brought his Mom’s ipod to play angry birds on.
I can see BYOD being a much more important issue in middle and high schools. The one thing that worries me is that not every student is going to have their own personal smart device, and I can see this setting up issues around inclusion, highlighting a distinction between “have” and “have not” homes. I think if BYOD is going to be a viable policy for your classroom you need to have access to school devices as well to make sure that every student has a chance to participate to their fullest extent.
Smart devices aren’t going away, and many of our students have a better grasp of their full potential than we do. Subbing in a middle school class recently, I was a little annoyed that some of them chose to take a picture of their homework assignment on the board instead of writing it into their agenda. I was going to call them on it, but then stopped to reconsider. Taking a picture was serving the same purpose, and having their homework information stored on their phone meant they were more likely to have that information on hand when they needed it. Our students will be able to make this transition to a BYOD environment much smoother than we will, and I think we need to be open to any technology that allows them to work smarter, and hopefully in the end, work harder.
I was not allowed to have a video game system in my home until I was 13. I remember many times going over to friend’s houses to play Nintendo, and gorging myself on junk food and 8 bit masterpieces on all night gaming sessions. My relationship to video games during this time was one of short term binges, followed by long draughts of inactivity. In my teen years I had a gameboy that I wore out after many years of playing. I currently own a Wii, that I used quite a bit when I initially bought it, but which has now become little more than a Netflix machine. While I loved these console games, I’m not sure if I can nail down exactly what they taught me. The best of these games are great not for the content they may teach you, but how they ease you into the in-game dynamics. Super Metroid is a great example of this, as it teaches you to use the game without the use of tutorials:
Aside from console games, there were a number of computer games such as Oregon Trail, SimCity, and Civilization that had more obvious educational applications. I remember spending a lot of time playing Simcity, and using the “Shift fund” cheat code, hoping that it wouldn’t trigger any earthquakes!
I am interested to see if my view of videogames changes over the duration of this course. I have always loved video games, but as a teacher, find it hard to see where I can use them effectively with my students. I have only ever seen them as a carrot to help student complete other work. I would be curious to see how one assesses what is learned, and how this is used to build on student learning.