Addiction and fatigue vs creative thinking prowess: Where this candle stands on the gaming debate

You’ll find a bunch of researchers who will say that playing computer games causes kids to become addicted. That they turn children into zombies and perpetuate violence. Makes them less fit and more anti-social. In general, that they are evil.

But you will find just as many who refute these allegations and claim that time spent playing computer games – with what Beach & O’Brien (2008) refer to as “constant connection and stimulation” (p 778)- in fact could be used as therapy for mental disorders and to slow the aging process.  Still more contend that games promote problem-solving and creativity. Others assert that the skills gamers learn through this mode can be transferred into various other learning areas.

And I’m sure we can all attest to their magical powers of engagement.

So, where do I stand? Well let’s start with what I’ve seen…..

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Video Game Glee by Evan Long on Flickr under CC BY-NC 2.0

I’ve seen boys who can’t do Maths on a test, can’t do it with concrete materials, can’t give their peer an answer if asked aloud. But those same boys can do that same Maths when they encounter it in the form of a puzzle within a game. And shouldn’t that be just as legitimate?

I’ve seen girls who were taught metaphors struggle to identify them and use them in their writing. Despite teachers giving them example after example, heavily contextualised. I’ve seen those same girls complete online interactive “game-like” tasks and become metaphor experts within minutes.

I’ve seen apathetic older boys show absolutely no interest in learning, until they were given their own digital tablet, a keyboard, and a mouse.

I’ve seen the eyes of children diagnosed with an ASD light up when the iPad text-to-speech app talks for them, causing their anxiety to melt away.

And I’ve seen candles around the world harness this learning modality by consuming themselves to create games that teach knowledge, skills and attitudes in an entirely unique way. Ways that would have made their predecessors- at least, those who weren’t inherently anti-gaming or too rigid to change (read my post about this topic here) – turn green with envy.  And I’ve used those games in my classroom, and applauded their creators, who “got it.”

Jane McGonigal goes so far as to say that gaming can make a better world….

“Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dE1DuBesGYM

Still not convinced? Look here for a whole bunch more convincing reasons to get your game on.

Now, I’m not saying throw out all the textbooks and buy everyone an Xbox. Teachers are not so easily replaced.

But I am saying- take a look at what games are available, and consider how they may fit your needs.

Because with games, you won’t ever have to worry about a kid falling asleep in your class. Or asking to go to sick bay, or to go to the toilet, or to get a drink. And I doubt that they will forget what they learnt as soon as they walk out of the room. Or answer that same question asked of them every day in the exact same way as the day before: “What did you do today?” “Nothing!”

The problem you may have instead is they may not realise they’re learning. Indeed, they may never want to leave your classroom again.

14 comments

  1. […] Do devices which connect to the net actually get utilised for their knowledge-growing potential, or are we mostly playing games on them? Are these games making us more creative, more socially intelligent, more clever? Or are we merely getting better at gaming? https://ateacherislikeacandle.wordpress.com/2015/10/16/addiction-and-fatigue-vs-creative-thinking-pr… […]

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  2. Computer games have their place but our experiment to find the right balance for our little kids continues. My preschooler loves the idea of computer games more then the reality and he quickly turns irrational if we don’t monitor his time… I really worry what it’s doing to him even in quick bouts.

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  3. I find it interesting to think about the potential for technology in learning. Reading this article, and the comments, has made me wonder if we will someday reach a tipping point, with technology being the core ‘teacher’, and humans the less common, more novel teaching approach? What will we add when/if we (teachers) take the back seat to technology? My guess is the ability to tell stories, empathise, encourage, build relationships and celebrate success will be important places where we can add value.

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    • Sfscott- an interesting idea about a tipping point. And if may not be far off! If the TV show “Humans” is anything to go by, artificial intelligence will in the future be able to do the encouraging and celebrating successes part, but I would like to think that teachers will still be able to “add value”, as you say, through their wisdom and insights, and their genuine desire to guide, support and always do what is best for the kids in their class. Feel free to read “artificial light v candle bright” for more of my thoughts on the matter. 😄

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  4. I’m in full support of interactive learning in the classroom not only from K-12 but through University also. My youngest is completing 3rd year Software Engineering and feels the lecturers can’t keep up to date with technology enough to answer his questions. Who knows what the future has in store for the next generation or beyond. All we know is it will be a completely different world than today and as teachers it is our responsibility to ensure that we teach with enough flexibility to enable them to grow and learn in whatever way is best for their future. If that includes learning through gaming, then so be it. From imagination comes creativity, which leads to critical thinking and invention. Perhaps gaming and subsequent designing of new games will provide the building blocks for the creative thinkers of the next generation.

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    • Hi Sandra! Thanks for visiting! I love it when the teacher becomes the student, when the lectured get to do some of the lecturing for a change. And that’s something uber exciting about games- they don’t have to bend to the physical limitations of the real world. Hence youngsters can imagine something remarkable and allow for the rest of the world to catch up.

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  5. I can definitely relate to this post about gaming. I recently saw Pixels at the movies and the memories came flooding back of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong – games are certainly not new but they never had such prominence at school! I face some resistance at school with the use of iPads and the apps that are on them – and they have all been individually selected after hours of professional development! Some teachers and parents complain that students just play games – but they don’t stop, look and think about the other skills, knowledge and understanding that the child is gaining! There are so many positives with games – I think the priority is to find a balance and embrace both the old and the new and appreciate each for what it can offer and teach! How do you manage any negativity at a school level?

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    • Hi Michelle! Thanks for reading and commenting! It’s not dissimilar to the controversy related to play-based learning in the early years, is it? Some people think it’s just “fun”, discounting its learning potential because the accumulation of knowledge- the traditional measure of learning- is more difficult to see, and personalised to each student. Us teachers witness every day how engaged, creative, improvisational and entrepreneurial kids get when “playing” (arguably the kinds of skills we want them to learn in order to be successful in a future full of unknowns) but it’s such a change from the norm that it’s scary and that creates resistance.
      I agree with the idea of balance, and find that one effective way to combat negativity is to have students self-report on their learning-through gaming- to their parents at conferences. That way it is coming straight from the horse’s mouth and parents can be immersed in the motivation and passion that underpins all true and meaningful learning.

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  6. Great article! I notice even Ariella loves to learn off the iPad, she loves the bright colours and sounds. It is much more interesting then we talking to her all the time I guess. Technology is really the future and I think we may end up seeing really smart kids who absorb everything they learn in mass online. I used to love the old encyclopaedia computer games when I was a kid and actually msn messenger made me a really fast typer without lessons which was useful for job interviews

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    • Yes Miti, you raise a good point about the pre-school learning potential of games, particularly the educational apps available through Apple. Also the availability of University degrees, informative YouTube videos, MOOCs… The nature of learning is really changing. Schools need to change in response.

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  7. You make a great point: We now live in a digital world full of technology and games can be educational. Games are hands-on, interactive and engaging and can promote problem solving skills, maths & literacy. It’s just up to adults to make sure that the duration and content is appropriate. Games and technology is a growing industry which will provide increasing opportunities and employment.

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    • Hi Julia, I try to always remember that classrooms these days are preparing kids for a future that we can’t predict. Perhaps offices will be equipped with, even run by, gaming consoles?

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    • You make an interesting point about “another changing technology” Riikka- I wonder what the technology of the next generation will look like? And classrooms- oh how I’d love to time travel to 20,50,100 years into the future and take a peek into the classrooms!

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