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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Playgrounds of the Self

After the Post column, I decided to do a little more looking on Christine Rosen. She recently wrote an essay for New Atlantis entitled Playgrounds of the Self, and is a much better read. Rosen runs a long gamut across the video game culture, pointing to people from Robin Hunicke to Liz Wooley (probably about as diametrically opposed of a pair that you could find). It's also a much more balanced tone. She takes Johnson to task over Everything Bad is Good For You, but isn't out to simply attack games or paint them as villains:

Gee, in other words, is eager to put the Xbox in the sandbox. “Games encourage exploration, personalized meaning-making, individual expression, and playful experimentation with social boundaries,” he enthuses, “all of which cut against the grain of the social mores valued in school.” He argues for a “new model of learning through meaningful activity in virtual worlds as preparation for meaningful activity in our post-industrial, technology-rich real world.” But Gee doesn’t show us how these virtual gaming skills are actually transferable to real-world situations. Like the authors of Got Game, Gee is hopeful that they are transferable and convinced that they will improve children’s educational experience. But wishful thinking is not the same as evidence, and evidence is certainly needed when such broad claims are being made on behalf of electronic entertainments. Although Gee’s research suggests intriguing possibilities for new educational tools, we must first answer the question of their effectiveness before we put a video game in every classroom. And we must grapple with the evidence on the other side of this equation. As William Winn, who heads the University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory, told the authors of Got Game, gamers really do think differently: “They leap around,” he writes. “It’s as though their cognitive structures were parallel, not sequential.’” Lost amid the enthusiasm for gaming, however, are two questions: Does “different” mean better? And what, in the end, are games for?

Highly recommend. She might be a moralizer, but Rosen gives us an educated and nuanced view of video games which you aren't likely to find around the mainstream press.


Thomas said...

That really is a great article. I found myself wanting to protest at some points (like the chubby antisocial kids in the seedy Gamestop), but I think that's because it hits a bit too close to home. The balance is pretty good.

Perhaps most importantly, I'd feel good about giving that article to someone like my mom. That's a pretty big endorsement.

Damion said...

I would agree with the notion that video games are highly effective teachers. The reason why, simply, is that the games are interactive. Games allow users to fail without risk. The ability to take chances you can't in real life is just the most obvious examples, but even in non-realistic games, the interactivity nudges people along the problem solving path. Good decisions can be rewarded, and bad ones punished.

This is, fundamentally, why killing hookers bugged people in GTA:VC. The fact that the game rewarded you moreso for being jack the ripper than your standard garden-variety road rage maniac crossed a line that drove the critics nuts, even if many of them couldn't articulate why.