Influence of computer games.

I read an article in The New Yorker (Nov 6th 2006) on Will Wright, the video game creator of SIM
City, the SIMs etc.  Part of the article touched on the influence of computer games on education.

Will Wright had received an email from Lara M. Brown, a professor of political sciences at California
State University.  She’d said that the influence is negative.  Computer games create children who are reactive instead of active.  Who can’t formulate hypothesise or lead off a debate because they want to see ‘what comes at them’.  They lack imagination because games provide all images, sounds and possible outcomes.  They have difficulty imagining worlds (places/historical times) without pictures and sounds.  They can’t visualise.

Wright responded that games teach children how to learn.  Current teaching, he said, is narrow, reductionist, Aristotelian.  It isn’t designed, and by implication games are designed, for experimenting with complex systems and navigating them in an intuitive way.  It isn’t designed for failure.  Games require trial and error; reverse engineering in your mind.  ‘Teachers are entering into the system who grew up playing games.  They’re going to want to engage with the kids using games.’

I am excited by the place of technology in education.  I think schools should be far more at the cutting edge, product testing end of IT development, rather than the uninspired recipients.  (Although I’m told interactive whiteboards, conceived for education, are finding their way into the boardroom.)  The New Yorker article convincingly puts the case for SIM City’s immense influence on urban planning.  And the complex systems created for games such as Spore and ‘Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games’ no more constrain possible outcomes than a scheme of work and marking criteria.  Indeed online collaboration, I think, is massively under-utilised in education.  As is the potential to draw on, and need to verify, unlimited information through the internet.

I would still hold to, and maintain as a core component of the curriculum, the practice of essay writing.  It is, I think, unrivalled in its fortifying of communication and structured thinking.


3 thoughts on “Influence of computer games.”

  1. I would want to know what Lara Brown’s evidence is for making such an assertion. As a political scientist rather than an educational one, she is possibly quoting opinon, which whilst interesting, is much less so that if there was something substantive to back it up. I’m all ears.

    My own is experience as an educational software developer is that computer games have been and will continute to have enormous potential to enhance cognitive skills. I believe that they enhance visualisation capabilities, not deplete them. The role of play as a powerful way to learn is well established. If software developers can create programs in which it is possible to play at amazing tasks in some realistic and engaging way, the ability of students to visualise and to imagine scenarios can only be enhanced.

    If anyone does not believe computer games have a potential to help learning, let them fly on a 747 with a pilot who has never had a go on a flight sim and is out on his maiden flight.

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