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But then there was magic in one girl’s eyes…

November 29, 2007

On the heels of this University of Michigan report (Violent games second only to smoking as a public health menace, says report), I am once again left wishing that we’d see headlines like these more often:

I monitor my kid’s media usage. She doesn’t get her hands on Assassin’s Creed, and she’s not watching Scarface. It comes down to this: Parents, please don’t feed your kid crap, whether food or ideas. Be careful what goes in.

Not too long ago, I went out to a local high school here, and I did a game design workshop with a group of at risk teens. These particular teenagers were literally at the last educational stop on the block – they’d been removed from one classroom after another due to their disruptive behaviors. Some had already been to jail. Another was a 15-year-old single mom of two. Bless her that she was still in school. Anyway, their teacher is a friend of mine, and we’d agreed to do this game design workshop, because some kids had expressed a desire to be game designers when they grew up. I was warned about their behavior, told what to expect and was prepped.

Instead, I saw the magic in one girl’s eyes, and no one was disrespectful to me that day. The magic was everywhere. In fact, they were all alive, excited about the prospect of learning how to make games. When I said that English and math and science and biology and history were all critical subjects for game designers, they saw new purpose in those studies. When students were asked to apply a concept from history and use it in a way that would make a game, they did (and no, they didn’t come up with GTA: Gettysburg Chronicles). And they had fun, lots of fun. So did I. The fact that they were learning was secondary to them. If learning is what it takes to make games, hey, sign them up.

I am still following this group of kids, and plan to go back to their school next month. To get into the next game design workshop, these at-risk kids are voluntarily competing by getting good grades and writing optional papers about the game they want to design. Video games have a unique power, a power that no textbook, no movie, no still life painting, no photograph has – that is the power to draw people in to an interactive world – as player or as designer. It is up to us as players, as parents and as educators to harness this medium for its strengths.

Seriously, I saw that light go on in that girl’s eyes, man, and as a designer and a parent, I got it.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. aortiz permalink
    November 29, 2007 5:29 pm

    I read that article. There was a quote about something or another, violent behavior being associated to video games as closely as condoms to HIV prevention, which is such an obscure comparison I couldn’t quite understand it at first.

    I dismissed that article almost immediately. Now I think I should have written about it.

    And now I regret (predictably) not being able to assist you with that program. It sounds like it went beautifully.

  2. November 29, 2007 5:41 pm

    “If learning is what it takes to make games, hey, sign them up.”

    I think you could turn that around, especially in this case. Something along the lines of: “If making games is what it takes to promote learning, sign schools up.”

    I’m friends with a lot of teachers, my mother and grandmother are/were teachers, and I really ended up with a lot more time in classrooms than most people. With that in mind, I’m not sure why all curriculum has to be so bland. Film studies are just now making it into high schools, and generally speaking, students are climbing over themselves to learn and do well. This is not only the honors-type students who just like school and the idea of school, but this is kids who skip all their other courses to make it to whatever they’re most interested in.

    There are several problems with the way schools work, mostly leading back to the fact that the focus is on students who like the idea of school to begin with. This causes them to seek out alternate forms of acceptance, and one of those forms is almost invariably video games. I can see how the test results came out to be what they are, but there’s really nothing we can do except stick to our guns (not really the best phrase, given the context) and continue to do what we do. That’s what the film industry has done, and it’s rare to see a report linking violent movies to violent actions (which were comonplace only 5 years ago).

  3. Alvaro Cavalcanti permalink
    November 29, 2007 5:53 pm

    Someone should publicise this post on the major newspapers front page. It is small and concise. Brilliant, I would add.

    I had some chances to give lectures or even to become a teacher, of some kind, but I didn’t took the opportunities, I thought (think) that teaching just isn’t my gig. But after reading your testimonial, I found myself wondering… I must feel really good seeing that light, huh? 🙂

  4. November 29, 2007 6:43 pm

    I constructed a research paper a few semesters ago, and gave a presentation on the whole Violent Game situation. I read several studies that actually did a physical test on middle aged students, to those that were in college. What did I find? Study A concluded that video games raise aggression, while Study B couldn’t conclude that it raised aggression. Or study C saying that it raised aggression in those that were already prone to aggressive behaviors.

    We’re extremely dynamic humans, but the bottom line falls on the parents to monitor their children and to make educational (or common sense?) decisions when it comes to putting their kid in a specific situation.

    Video games, being as young as it is, is going to go through this turbulence of not looking like a good median when we have people like Jack Thompson running around spreading a crazy agenda.

    Books went through a time where people were extremely religious on the thought that it spurred violent behavior. The radio went through it. The television went through it. And now the video game phenomenon is going through it. It’s just the natural life cycle of entertainment, that’s all.

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