Video Games' Value, Vice

By Hunker, Paula Gray | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 23, 1999 | Go to article overview

Video Games' Value, Vice


Hunker, Paula Gray, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Cory and Aaron Dean are in video-game heaven. The Lanham boys are clutching the bars of their side-by-side Jet Skis as they concentrate on their virtual racecourse. Six-year-old Aaron's head barely rises above the realistic handles in the state-of-the art video game at Dave & Buster's, an expansive arcade. Yet he and Cory, 9, show precocious proficiency in a game that nearby grown-ups find challenging.

"They are true-video game aficionados," their dad, Reginald Dean, says with a laugh. "They are the masters of dozens of games on their PlayStation."

But they also both brought home straight-A report cards - an achievement that won them this trip to the massive restaurant and arcade north of the Beltway on Rockville Pike.

Unlike many educators and parents who view video games and educational success as mutually exclusive, Mr. Dean believes the two are strongly linked - and so do a growing number of parenting and computer experts.

Although the value - or danger - of video games is still open for debate, their popularity is undeniable. The NPD Group, a research company in Port Washington, N.Y., that tracks the toy industry, says video games have risen from sales of $1.6 billion in 1996 to more than $3 billion in 1998. This year, the group estimates, that figure easily could top $6 billion.

As technology rapidly adds ever-realistic graphics, the games' appeal extends well beyond the originally targeted middle school children, with an increasing amount of the market going to older teens and adults. But at the Dean home, Cory and Aaron began playing "as soon as they could hold the controller," their dad says.

"I get a lot of flak from family and friends about letting my boys play video games," he says. "But I attribute their good reading abilities to their love of video games."

Cory pores through pages of magazines, reading about his favorite games and searching for clues that will help him puzzle his way into ever higher levels of play. Aaron was so eager to get his hands on the same information that he taught himself to read by the time he was 4 years old.

OPPORTUNITY OR DANGER?

That passion for self-propelled education is the reason Seymour Papert urges parents to view playing video games as a learning opportunity rather than as source of intergenerational conflict.

"Most games are very challenging, and children must take on a new and independent means of learning," says Mr. Papert, founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's artificial-intelligence laboratory and author of "The Connected Family: Bridging the Digital Generation Gap."

"Unfortunately, parents are often blind to this kind of learning. But if parents can see [video games] as an opportunity rather than a danger and respectfully sit down and play with their children, then the whole family can learn together," he writes.

Mr. Papert, who works from his Blue Hill, Maine, home, acknowledges that some games have much better educational content than others, but he urges parents to nudge their children gently into constructive video adventures. He recalls a recent experience with his own 9-year-old grandson.

Although his grandson was computer literate from a very early age, about a year ago, he focused almost exclusively on "mindless shoot-'em-dead computer games" - much to his parents' dismay. An aunt noticed that the boy especially loved a game's flying alien aircraft, and she gave him an adult flight-simulator game. This rekindled his curiosity. During the course of a few months, Mr. Papert's grandson acquired knowledge - well beyond his grade level - in geography, vocabulary, mechanics and aviation.

KEEP IT PRECIOUS

Peter Lalor is a parent who doesn't have to be convinced that video games can be beneficial. The father of two sons - Peter, 15, and Matt, 13 - he is grateful that Nintendo was introduced just as "because I said so" no longer worked as an effective disciplinary tool. …

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