I had to write a persuasive essay for my English class. One of the topics was, "Is on line gaming a waste of time or can it teach valuable life skills?" Though it is long I figured some of you might be interested in reading it.
The Games of Life
The thought of on-line gaming being a “waste of time” is caused by the cultural differences between the current and past generations. The dramatic changes in technology that have occurred in the past 20 years have had a direct impact on effective forms of learning in today’s society. This misunderstanding of currently viable educational formats has created a generally negative outlook on video games in general as well as the people that play them. Many skills can be obtained via interactive electronic media that are quite applicable in real life situations with the amount of available skills only broadening with the addition of the ability to play games with people from around the world.
Past generations have had noticeably different forms of media available to them in order to learn what was needed to successfully function in life. Things as simple as reading from a book to effectively learn have created a mindset that was not wrong at the time, but causes a conflict with the youth of today. This conflict occurs in what educational theorist Neil Postman (1979) calls a “media war” in which he described as a mental collision happening when an emerging technology and its accompanying ideology begins to challenge the cultural dominance of long-established practices.
In “Gaming Lives in the Twenty-First Century” (2007), Cynthia L. Selfe and Gail E. Hawisher suggest the older generation’s learning method as a “post-figurative” form of learning “in which change is largely imperceptible and the “future repeats the past.” In such cultures, adults are able to pass along the necessary knowledge to children.” But this teaching method isn’t the only solution for a youth to obtain valuable information with the current technology available. Any youth that plays video games is constantly bombarded with new information through a goal to obtain said information. The need to find that information comes straight from inside the youth; a need to solve puzzles or problems in the game; a need to set and obtain goals; a need to cooperate with other people for a common goal; or even just a need to experience a good story. All these things teach valuable skills but aren’t presented in a traditional method.
“Real learning is active and always a new way of experiencing the world” (James Gee, What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, 2003, p. 26)
The fact that this method is not traditional creates an illusion that it is wrong. Just as with anything, change, even if it is progress, is usually perceived as bad or ineffective even though we can easily bring effective learning down to its simplest form, experience. The one main goal of video games is to provide a virtual world to live an embodied experience, but still an experience none-the-less; therefore learning through video games is inevitable. But what can really be learned through video games?
An article by Peter s. Bearman, Phd, and James Moody, Phd, suggests “A growing body of research links social isolation to suicide. Researchers have known for some time that isolation from peers leads to lower estimations of self-worth and self confidence.”(American Journal of Public Health, 2004) A lack of social interaction can be seen as a lack of life experience. One quality video games instill is a sense of self-value. Setting small and immediately obtainable goals gives endless opportunities for “intrinsic rewards for learning and practicing,” which in turn consistently raises levels of self-confidence. A youth setting a personal goal of trying to set the highest score in a game or be at the top of a leaderboard among his or her peers gives the opportunity that once the goal is achieved it will instill a great sense of self-worth. Though even if this goal is not reached, another great quality known as humility becomes extremely relevant. But even for people who are not goal-oriented, video games can still be great learning tools. For those who choose not to see it, the subtle constant practice involved in a video game is one of its most valuable teaching tools. Learning to pick oneself up after a failure and keep on trying is the complete premise of any game. Learning from mistakes made and making changes to a strategy to adapt and solve a challenging problem is one of life’s hardest concepts to grasp and it something that is reinforced in every aspect of every video game.
A game going on-line furthers to increase the amount of skills available to young gamers by adding a social and community aspect to it. Aside from obvious social interaction required by on-line games such as teamwork and sacrifice, once again self-confidence and humility can be reinforced. Natural leaders among groups of people rise to the top and are able to lead willing groups to obtain common goals. One of the reasons people are able to step forward and take this chance is because of the extreme anonymity that on-line gaming brings. Risking the credibility of something as simple as a screen name is not nearly as frightening to do in comparison to risking credibility of the personal image presented at school or in any real life social environment. Though not everyone can succeed as a leader, on-line games provide youth with a welcoming environment to find the role they feel most comfortable filling. Once this natural role is found it is easier to translate it in to real life situations instead of starting from scratch and searching for it.
The benefits of on-line gaming are not limited exclusively to skill building though. The social aspects of on-line games bring the world to the fingertips of a gamer. In 2007 Brunel University completed a three-year study which was reported by many newspapers, one being a well known online paper known as The Scotsman. In this study of 13-16-yearolds they found that on-line games can be quite beneficial to the cultural knowledge of young adults. Allowing children “to meet other role-playing gamers, many youngsters also get the chance to find out about different nationalities and races they would not normally come into contact with.” Learning to cooperate not only with people of the same race greatly opens the minds to different cultures and ways of accomplishing goals. In some games such as Counter-Strike, an on-line only team oriented counterterrorism based game, groups of like-minded players create organized teams known as “clans”. These clans meet up at set times, strategize for play against other clans, and participate in competitive matches together. Clans, or in other games known as “Guilds”, can create a great sense of belonging that may not be able to be found elsewhere in a certain child’s life. Aside from this sense of belonging, clans give an opportunity for group problem solving as well as teaching discipline and time management.
I used to be part of a clan as I myself am an avid video game player. I am part of an on-line forum in which I’ve met people from all over world including the United States, New Zealand, and even a few people in Russia. The things I have learned through on-line gaming and the community it has provided I may have been unable to find in everyday life. One of the most valuable lessons I feel I have learned is the ability to cooperate with anyone. Over my countless hours of gaming I have made friends with enemies, lead teams to various victories, and even helped to solve on-line friend’s emotional problems. A lot of these social interactions can be found at school or at the workplace with regular everyday friends, but at the same time I was doing something I love. I myself was lucky enough to not have any social problems in everyday life. But I have met a numerous amount of people that without the internet and on-line games as an outlet, may not still be here today.
Through the presented facts and opinions, we can see that the argument not lie in the debate about wasted time versus on-line games themselves but more the diversity of activities that gamers participate in and their ability to manage their gaming commitment with their other responsibilities. The most important thing to remember is that technology is changing at a record breaking pace and with those changes in technology comes new learning practices as well as new social environments. In the end, the broadness of the subject of “life skills” is so vast that building a skill in any area can one day be worthwhile.
Hope you enjoyed.