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Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

I had the good fortune of hearing Swedish mystery writer Henning Mankell speak this past weekend.  I’ve devoured all of his books and am just beginning his last Inspector Wallender book, The Troubled Man. Mankell is a marvelous speaker and knows how to regale an audience with subtle, yet powerful anecdotes.

Among the many topics he discussed, ranging from Mugabe to Mozambique, Mankell talked about art as the “search for friends to take into reality.”  He shared the story of meeting a man in the early 1990s in Sweden.  The man asked Mankell whether Mankell’s most renowned character, Inspector Wallender, was in favor of Sweden joining the European Union.  At that moment, Mankell noted, he recognized that Wallender had become this man’s friend who had entered reality.

This got me thinking about kids and digital media, ranging from social networking to gaming.  Kids love to create online identities, living with a mulitplicity of names, in different realities.  The question is how kids navigate between the real and the imagined, and which identities enter reality for them.

Instead of art being the search for friends to take into reality, for kids is it gaming and social media as the search for friends to take into reality?

I love the character of Inspector Wallender and as the woman who introduced Mankell explained, Mankell’s characters have a way of staying with you and the stories are ones that still have you asking questions months and even years later.  Do the characters and identities that kids are creating online have the same depth of connection?

Jane McGonigal in Reality is Broken argues for the need to invert reality into a game, and leverage the power of game thinking and design to solve global problems.  She writes:

“What if we decided to use everything we know about game design to fix what’s wrong with reality? What if we started to live our real lives like gamers, lead our real businesses and communities like game designers, and think about solving real-world problems like computer and video game theorists?” (p. 7)

McGonigal shares the story of David Sudnow’s 1983 memoir on gaming, Breakout.  She shares Sudnow’s “neurochemical activation” from the immersion of gaming:

“This was a whole different business, nothing like I’d ever known, like night and day…Thirty seconds of play, and I’m on a whole new plane of being, all my synapses wailing.” (p. 40)

Sudnow was “working at the limits of his abilities,” according to McGonigal.

Scavnger Founder Seth Priebatsch has spoken about this decade as being the decade of the game layer.

In the book Teaching 2030, the authors argue that teachers of the future need to be prepared to “Teach the Googled learner, who has grown up on virtual reality games and can find out almost everything with a few taps of the finger.”

The key is to figure out how to create depth in the learning experience with digital media in the way that Mankell has in his understanding of art and literature. Mankell understands how to build and sustain connections with his characters and with his readers.

I hope that we can still hold onto the magic of books, like the ones Mankell writes, to hold the imagination and feed the “search for friends to take into reality.”  I would hate to ever lose that to games and virtual learning environments.

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Interesting story on Marketplace. Interview with author Jane McGonigal on her new book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better And How They Can Change The World.

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Kids love games.  They spend hours digging through different ways to level up.  They hit one hurdle, then move and shift to figure out how to overcome the obstacle.  It can take hundreds of repetitions, but when the breakthrough happens, there is often unrestrained joy and satisfaction, for that moment.  And then, quickly onto the next challenge.  The allure of video games is the constant set of challenges that await the player.  Failure is widespread and part of the experience, and it is not something to be feared, but instead serves as a motivator or driver in the experience.

The growing proliferation of video games in schools, as reported in the New York Times Magazine, signals a potential shift in modes of learning and resilience for students in schools.  From the Times article:

“According to Ntiedo Etuk, the chief executive of Tabula Digita, which designs computer games that are now being used in roughly 1,200 schools around the country, children who persist in playing a game are demonstrating a valuable educational ideal. “They play for five minutes and they lose,” he says. “They play for 10 minutes and they lose. They’ll go back and do it a hundred times. They’ll fail until they win.” He adds: “Failure in an academic environment is depressing. Failure in a video game is pleasant. It’s completely aspirational.”

Failure is not a disaster; instead, it’s a welcomed part of learning.

What a great concept for school communities to adopt.  The question is do schools have to implement video game design curriculum to achieve the goal of fostering resilience through “failure based learning,” a phrase coined by Will Wright, who designed the Sims game franchise?

Maybe not in whole, but certainly in parts.  Collaboration happens through gaming, frustration occurs regularly, and problem-solving skills are heightened.

Jan Plass, a professor of educational communication and technology at NYU, in the same Times article, explains the way problem-solving through gaming works:

“They’re spending time discussing how to solve the problem,” Plass said in a low voice. “They might not solve as many problems. But the question for us is whether the conversation adds to the learning, versus if they spent their time on more practice. Does discourse result in deeper processing?”

Yes, the discourse does lead to “deeper processing”.  Two brains are always better than one, especially when trying to figure out solutions to complex problems.

Gene Kranz, the flight director for Apollo 13, uttered the famous phrase: “Failure is not an option.”  Well, in video games, failure is the option, and that’s a good lesson for schools to think about, as they configure 21st century learning.

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