Hurrah! The other day the New York Times feature “Learning by Playing: Videogames in the Classroom” was the big talk among many of the Twittering teachers I follow. While many edu-gamers have long known the value of games for learning (and I’m not talking “educational” games), the really interesting story for me is the sudden reversal in perspective from non-gamers now ready to adopt. Synthetic worlds and gaming scholar Edward Castronova also remarked on the article’s “gee whiz” factor and challenged some of the biases and misconceptions that inform it:
“the article is interesting for other reasons too. It begins with “Intrigued by the willingness of millions of consumers to pay real money for things that do not exist…” and ends by referring to “pretend items.” Joining the spirit of the article, then, I’d like to say that while I read this pretend piece of news, and I did notice that it doesn’t exist, I am not willing to spend real money on it. The article is just a goofy, unreal plaything produced for people who waste their days in the fantasy world where the New York Times is treated as if it is were a source of unbiased information.”
Given the mainstream acceptance of tech panics that preceded this development, I think we need to reflect on an educational culture of deference, legitimacy and authority that prevented us from getting here sooner. We also need to ask whose voices and perspectives really matter when it comes to understanding games and gaming cultures.
Gaming beyond tech panics
Like social media adoption, which initially inspired fear and worry among those in traditional professions (i.e., corporations, big media, PR, publishing and education), game culture is undergoing a similar approval process by those who formerly embraced Big Media tech panics rather than exploring these cultures for themselves.
My point here is that those attitudes have had real consequences for the people whose identities, lifestyles or cultures were dismissed as pathological, violent, addictive and all the other damning admonishments common to laggard discussions of videogames and gamers. I, myself, have endured well-intentioned “advice” of family or friends who sent links to articles about the dangers of Second Life, for example, or the disinterest of academics-biased colleagues who couldn’t immediately see the value (but didn’t have the interest in finding it). It’s not fun having to deal with people who think there’s something wrong with you because you enjoy something they don’t – or trying to convince them why they’re wrong. I feel as much pride in my raiding achievements as another teacher might feel about his or her golf game.
Learning from learners (not authorities)
What troubles me is a culture of education that listens first to voices of power, legitimacy and authority and only incidentally to the margins (until the margins are legitimized by power holders). This attitude manifests itself in the classroom as well – where similarly “strange” or “weird” kids are misunderstood, oppressed or discriminated against by those who don’t make the effort to understand identities and cultures unlike their own and stage learning as a form of coercion. As Bryan Alexander points out, the adoption of gaming involves a fundamental shift in educational thinking akin to Summerhill.
In otherwords, genuinely meaningful inquiry must be informed by a greater culture of exploration beyond the echo chambers of educator-defined value. The awareness of thousands of gamer-created cultures, resources and forums are the canon, games and game spaces are just the architecture in which play happens. There are a lot of people out there who have things to teach us, if only we didn’t need them to be “teachers” for their perspectives on learning to have value.
While I’m really truly pleased that gaming is getting embraced by more mainstream educators, I’d like to see gaming culture embraced with the same level of respect, sophistication and depth as academic subjects and not merely become another web2.0 buzz word or accessory (like social media). A depth of scholarship is already out there by post-secondary researchers and academics who have been exploring games seriously for decades. That’s a good place to start.
But another place we need to look for insight is from gamers and gaming cultures – the 14 year old who is leading raids in World of Warcraft could tell you quite a lot about what engages him in game but not in school. The real “experts” don’t necessarily have degrees or credentials to verify their knowledge. If we’re ever going to learn anything about learning (beyond school) we need to talk to the actual learners.
Here’s a selection of bookmarks I’ve collected about gaming and games related culture that might be of interest to teachers:
Wow in Schools: The groundbreaking project that gave at risk youth a new way to achieve student success