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Summertime Video Gaming

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It used to be universal value that children would call adults "Mr." or "Mrs." or "Miss." It was a sign of respect.  Of course, that was in the same day as when we wore dungarees for outdoor work, girls didn't wear stockings until they were teenagers, boys looked forward to the day they were given their grandfather's watch, married couples on television shows slept in twin beds, violence was rarely seen, and the commercials were for food, cars, and cigarettes.  Now, there is an entire industry built around jeans that go anywhere. Casual wear is worn to work. Toddlers wear stockings.  Boys, and girls, tell time on their phones, not on their wrists. Intimate situations among people of all sexual orientations are on prime time, marriage aside. Violence and dead bodies are a staple in evening TV. Commercials on television advertise feminine care and male enhancement and prescription drugs. Times change and values do, too.

Somehow the behavior change takes over like a tidal wave and we become part of the unsuspecting movement toward a new set of rules about what is accepted. Most times we don't hear discussions, let alone disagreements, about these changes.  So here we are in an open and relaxed 2014 society in which violence and sex are played out daily in our living rooms and on our computers.  And, even with parental controls, surely it becomes part of the life of very young children. So, what about those pesky video games.

Isabela Granic, PhD, Adam Lobel, PhD, and Rutger C.M.E. Engels, PhD, all of the Developmental Psychopathology Department, Behavioral Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, report on their study of the impact of video games.  Because there had been so much written about the negative effects of playing video games they chose to look into the positive effects. They did so with the caveat that it was not their intention to ignore the reported negative potential they also hold. We are all familiar with the bias many hold against the playing of video games.  But, let's not allow a bias against video games be persuasive without becoming knowledgeable about both sides of the issue.  Video games may be an important asset in schools in developing positive social behaviors and provide other important learning experiences.

We propose that, taken together, these findings suggest that video games provide youth with immersive and compelling social, cognitive, and emotional experiences. Further, these experiences may have the potential to enhance mental health and well-being in children and adolescents. (Granic etal. p. 66)

We have evidence that many of our young people are interested in video games and enjoy playing them.  Fears about those who become "addicted" to them rise, but believing they should be kept out of our schools in an attempt to keep them away from children is tantamount to believing that prohibition worked.  Adults and educators do, however, need to have a voice and an influence over which games and where and with whom.  If we take the position that video games are bad and shun them, the gamers will go underground and our knowledge and influence will diminish. But, a

...recent breakthrough in biology research provides a nice illustration of how gamers' superior spatial and problem-solving skills, as well as their creativity, all came together to solve a real-world, previously insoluble problem (p. 69).

 Evidence exists that there are those who become violent, attacking and even committing murder have played video games.  Back in time, there were those who feared TV violence would increase social violence....maybe it has. Yet, TV screens have been brought into our schools and their use focused on learning. Can't it be that with games?

We wonder how interesting it would be if summer reading for teachers and leaders (and even parents) included Jan McGonigal's 2011 book, Reality is Broken:  Why Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World and read an article in Mind/Shift like Social And Emotional Benefits Of Video Games: Metacognition and Relationships. Then, leaders and teachers and even parents could agree to learn to choose to play a MMORPG. In the fall, a local summit could be convened in which students who are familiar with those game genres would join with the adults who learned a game begin year long cross-generational conversations. Remember when families played games around a table? It could be like that while building consensus about the value and the potential dangers associated with gaming as a learning tool. Perhaps during those fall summits, experts in the field could be Skyped in to contribute to the discussions.

Behaviors are influenced by outside forces.  We know that and see it all the time. But does playing a video game turn someone toward anti-social behaviors?  Can we answer that question with confidence?  Is there a way we can parlay this world of gaming into an asset in our schools?  The answers lie in learning and conversations. 

McGonigal, Jane (2011)Reality is Broken:  Why Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World New York:  Penguin Books

Isabela Granic, PhD, Adam Lobel, PhD, and Rutger C.M.E. Engels, PhD, Radboud "The Benefits of Playing Video Games," University Nijmegen; Nijmegen, The Netherlands; American Psychologist, Vol. 69, No. 1. 

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