Some of my students refer to themselves as gamers, not just serious gamers, but high-level advanced gamers. They have made a personal commitment to their computer games, and they make no apologies about it (when they are talking to certain people.) For some reason, they like to tell me about the amount of time they spend playing online. I have been trying to look at the gaming phenomenon in comparison to rock music, a generation ago. I grew up surrounded by popular music, but I know that parents who were older than mine just hated everything about the music industry. They saw the time that their kids devoted to listening or playing music as being completed useless. They couldn’t see any purpose in the activities, and felt threatened by the entire culture surrounding it. Is the parallel sounding familiar? I know my students see gaming as something that belongs to them; adults don’t ‘get’ them. I know I don’t understand them, but I do understand the attachment they feel to an activity with which they so closely identify.
I used to play piano every day. I know how it feels when time evaporates while you are absorbed in something that engages your brain, your body, and your heart. I can’t imagine that a computer game might engage a player to this same level, but I try to accept this possibility and the ramifications of this. When I am engaged in music, whether listening to it or playing it, time is irrelevant. Csikszentmihalyi uses the term “flow” to describe this feeling. In teaching, the ultimate goal is to provide opportunities for this level of engagement. Whereas video games are seen as addictive, or an escape from reality, activities such as my piano practice are still socially acceptable, though no less addictive. I have been thinking about the elements of gaming that are engaging these students, hoping to find ways to include the positive aspects of them in my own curriculum design.
Gaming is never passive. Gamers are problem solvers, often playing in teams, working together on a quest. It is collaborative group work, solving questions that have some personal meaning to them. The competitive aspect attracts players, not because they might win in the end (there really is no end to the games, as far as I know) but because they want to beat another team, to get better. Individual success is not as satisfying as a team win and increasing status. I have seen the difference in engagement when my students work in teams. Not all students enjoy teamwork, but often those who struggle on their own are completely involved when they get to work with other students. They enjoy talking to (and over) their teammates, and thrive on the pace of the activity. Speed is also an issue. The action in gaming is constantly incoming, challenging the players. Nothing is simplified. Players will push themselves until they succeed, while the bar is continually raised. Gamers are intelligent, active thinkers. If teachers can approach lesson design, keeping in mind some of these elements of video games, we may just be able to interest our Gamers in school.