Throughout history, there have been many advancements in technology particularly over the past couple of centuries. Who would have thought that Alexander Bell’s invention of the telephone would lead to the creation of the mobile phone and Skyping? Of course there have been many other famous inventors who have built on his knowledge and dared to dream further and farther. But what about gaming and virtual worlds?
Jane McGonigal believes that ‘gaming can make a better world’. If this is truly the case then maybe we should be taking a closer look at its inclusion in education. Jane explains that gaming gives people an insight into the best version of themselves, in real life things such as the fear of failure, anxiety, frustration and cynicism hold people back. However, in gaming people are willing to help at a moment’s notice, pick themselves up when they fail and stick at a problem until a solution is found. In fact she believes gaming can solve world issues such as hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict and obesity.
I am not entirely convinced by McGonigal’s theory, however I do believe that gaming can be used to teach our children. Popular culture is a powerful tool for engaging students in learning and should be explored by educators. I’m not just talking about the ‘educational’ games such as Mathletics, GarageBand and Dr. Frankenstein’s Body Lab. I’m talking about the games children want to play out-side of school homework such as World of Warcraft and Minecraft.
The PBS Idea Channel has produced a clip which justifies why Minecraft can be the ultimate educational tool because it is able to teach ‘computer science, art history, engineering, civics, mathematics, world history, and maybe most things’. In fact there are hundreds of websites with educational Minecraft activities but just because there is a plethora of support for Minecraft, that does not necessarily warrant its inclusion into the classroom. Darlol’s comment below is a common school of thought about the results of gaming. “minecraft in education is a terrible idea: a lot of people will lose their jobs. everyone will become extremely stupid because nobody reads books. people forget that real life exist too and play too many games and starve to death because they wanted to craft a diamond pickaxe. everyone gets hand injuries because they play too much and there art no doctors because they want to brew a healing potion in minecraft.” There are also people who are concerned that young people are passive and impressionable to the point that there is a moral panic around violence in popular games which could lead to the Columbine Effect. However, as Bradford discovered when working with young people, players do not lose their critical capacities once they enter gameplay. They do not enter into a trance state, in-fact they are involved in activites such as narrative, problem solving, socialisation and collaboration.
In summary, I am a fan of Henry Jenkins’ proposal, that educators need to discuss how young people are engaging in the world around them and this includes gaming. Jenkins does not dismiss the challenges and health risks involved in too much gaming, but encourages us to see the merit in them where new skills and knowledge may be found as a consequence of this new media.
Bradford, C. (2010). Looking for my corpse: Video games and player positioning. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 33(1), 54- 64