What do we Learn From Video Games?

This question has been addressed by many parents and critics.  They argue that video games are of little or no value to adolescents, that they teach our youth to engage in risky behavior and violence, and that they transport the player into a fantasy world.  These critics believe that video games have had a negative impact on children and adolescents, and argue that engaging in excessive video game playing will provide young adults with no useful life skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics’s Council on Communications and Media wrote: “Exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music, and video games, represents a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed…”

However, there is significant psychological evidence that disproves critics such as these. Mark Prensky states  “For whenever one plays a game, and whatever game one plays, learning happens constantly, whether the players want it to, and are aware of it, or not. And the players are learning “about life,” which is one of the great positive consequences of all game playing.” Pensky focuses on the differences between surface messages which are presented to the gamer in the form of graphics, and the content of the game witch is presented to the player in the form of audio and text.

Prensky suggests that there are five different levels of learning that happens when one plays any video or computer game.  He addresses these five levels as the “how”, “what”, “why”, “where” and “when/ whether.”  In the how level of learning one learns how to manipulate the game.  The player learns how to control the character(s) of the game to fight, to move, to protect oneself, ect.  This type of learning is important to the “real world” because it teaches pattern recognition and spatial processing which is proven to be a helpful skill with non-verbal tests.  At this level, players also learn the importance of multi-tasking and taking large amounts of information at once (such as different views of the screen) and how to process peripheral information.

The second level of learning is the what level.   At this level the player learns the rules and limitations to the particular game.  A feature of computer and video games is that the rules can often be changed by the player.  There are a set of accessible codes called “cheat codes” that can alter the rules of the game by giving a player extra lives, extra weapons, ect.  Players constantly question the validity and realistic value that the rules of a game provide for the player.  Video game designers spend time tweaking their rules to comply with the real world physics and real world situations.  This learning level allows players to reflect and compare the rules of the video game to the “rules” of the real world.

The third level of learning is learning why.  At this level of learning the player learns strategy of the game and how to succeed while playing it.  Again, the game strategy usually parallels real life situations.  For example, in most war games players learn that it is best to kill the target sneakily instead of out in the open, and it’s not wise to attack the target without all the necessary forces, its best to be prepared and keep your guard up, and complex moves are often times better than simple ones. Also, single player games have recently been networked so that players could play with their friends.  This teaches the player competition and cooperation between real people, not just the automated computer competitor. Even the US Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force have learned different strategies by playing video games.  Some of these games are custom made, and some of them are pulled right off the shelf.  By playing the simulations, one does not necessarily learn how to do a specific task, but instead learning why…learning what the strategies of performing a specific task are.  Real life lessons from the why level include learning cause and effect, long term winning versus short term gains, order from seeming chaos, the value of persistence as well as many others.

The fourth level is learning where.  This type of learning takes place in the context of the game.  There is a lot of environment learning in video games because one must learn how to navigate and explore the world of their game.  At this level of learning, gamers grasp the concept that someone is always more powerful than you are, and that in most cases the player eventually dies.  In this level of learning, gamers learn cultural relativity…that there are certain things that you can not do in one world that you could do in another.

The final level of learning is the when/ whether level.  At this level gamers decide when to do something and whether it is right and wrong, by making value and morally based decisions.  There are often times emotional messages that the player receives from various aspects of the game such as symbols, allegory, images, sound and music to persuade the player into making a certain decision in relation to the game.  Learning in this level is driven by rewards and punishments, just like in the real world.

All of these levels of learning are present in any video or computer game that can be played. The amount of positive learning that children and adolescents receive from playing video games is actually astounding

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