Video Games for the Disengaged (and Not Only) Students

Article excerpt

A few years ago, I was looking to buy a present for my brother but I could not decide what to get him. Instead of taking the risk of choosing something he would not like, I called him to ask point-blank what he had on his wish list. He was financially independent and he did not have to wait for presents in order to fulfill his wish list, but I managed to persuade him to answer my question. He replied that he was planning to soon buy the Age of Empires and the Age of Mythology. My silence on the other end of the line prompted him to clarify that those two were titles of computer video games! Indeed, my silence revealed my ignorance about some very popular video game titles and the wide use of video games by people of different ages. Even though I was very familiar with educational CD-ROMs, my interaction with video games was limited and was reflected only through my addictive relationship with Tetris (which had ended a few years before that phone call), and the occasional use of one or two video games that came with my computer.

My initial silence to my brother's response was followed by surprise. Driven by my then wrong assumptions that video games were a waste of time, I found it incomprehensible that my brother, a young professional in his early thirties, was still playing video games (that were not already installed on his computer). Yet, I bought him the two video games and used my visit to him as an opportunity to begin to learn first about the video game world and then the extent to which it could be integrated in education and the classroom world.

My then misconceptions about video games are still very common among parents and educators. According to De Aguilera and Mendiz (2003), many politicians, educational leaders, and media professionals and critics express concern about video games and blame them for the growth of a culture of violence. Further, De Aguilera and Mendiz claim that, when serious incidents occur with young video game players, public opinion leaders quickly pass judgment, blaming those who play video games and "alluding to the games' violent, sexist, or addictive characteristics" (p. 2). Similarly, Prensky (2003) asserts that the press encourages these beliefs with "headlines about 'killing games' when in fact twothirds of all computer and video games are rated ?' (everybody), and 16 of the top 20 sellers are rated either 'E' or T (teen)" (p. 4).

While several groups in our society tend to have a negative opinion about video games, students are fascinated by well-designed games. The computer and video games industry has managed to do what schools have difficulties doing: motivating students to participate in learning experiences. Our students, even the most disengaged ones, are transformed into highly motivated and engaged players when they are faced with a challenge and the need to problem solve in the world of their video games. These same students who complain about and, many times, ignore homework devote several hours strategizing and interacting with other players online, in order to reach new objectives and new successes in their games.

In this column I discuss video games and their potential to motivate students in the classroom, engage reluctant readers, and provide learning opportunities in different contexts. Instead of presenting a debate on the advantages and disadvantages of using video games in and out of school, I take the position that there is a place for video games in today's schools. I begin with a brief explanation of what I mean when I use concepts such as video games and gaming and what types of games the Internet gamers play. I continue with a brief description of learning principles that are incorporated in good video games and then I discuss barriers to the inclusion of video games in schools. I conclude with some suggestions on how teachers could begin to use video games in their instruction.

Video games: The concept and the gamer

In this article, I use the terms game or video game or computer game to include any games that can be played online or offline, either on computers (PC or MAC) or game platforms, such as Microsoft's Xbox or Xbox 360, the Sony PlayStation 2 or 3, the Nintendo Wii, and various handheld devices, such as the Nintendo DS and the iPhone. …