The mere mention of video games generally provokes a very quick reaction from parents and teachers alike – they are a non-educational waste of time, distracting learners from more “wholesome” activities like “studying hard”!
In the school setting, video games are a no go. As soon as a student takes out a smartphone or some other bizarre gadget to play with, two things will happen almost simultaneously – you get a throng of other students surrounding the player and a dissident adult voice intoning the proverbial “put that thing away now!” Images of children “lost” to their electronic devices contribute to the general disapproval that meets video games in the educational setting.
Yet there is another side to the coin which is unfortunately very often ignored.
The debate about the educational value of video games is not new. Although gamification, or the use of game elements for assessment purposes has been recognised and further developed in the past decade, video games as such are usually not regarded as having educational value.
Yet, researchers like James Paul Gee and Henry Jenkins have long reflected on the educational possibilities that video games offer and how schools could actually benefit by paying more attention to them in general and by focusing on specific aspects that could help improve the school experience. At a most basic level, being more open to the whole idea of video games could make a huge difference.
A supportive teacher will listen to students talk about their favourite video game rather than categorically ignore, or even worse, prohibit such discourse. An open-minded teacher might even use video games as a stimulus to actively engage students, leading to pertinent topics and issues that may not be immediately evident and engaging for the learners without the video game.
Some games are so elaborately advanced that they can serve as a launching pad for a myriad of educational experiences ranging from seemingly straightforward issues like gender stereotyping and how male and female characters are portrayed in video games to more advanced issues like alternative narrative possibilities and awareness about the way in which we learn.