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By Anne Collier

It being summertime here in the global North, there may be a little extra videogame play going on in households with kids. So it may be helpful for parents to know about a mother lode of the latest wisdom on videogames’ effects on kids’ learning, social development and futures. It’s MindShift’s “Guide to Games & Learning,” and here are a few nuggets:

Gaming fuels motivation

“We want our children to develop strong meta-cognitive skills [i.e., “the desire, the drive, and the skill, to look at themselves and evaluate the way they think about their place in the world”],” writes reporter Jordan Shapiro in “Social-Emotional Benefits of Video Games,” “motivated to make a difference in the world.” He points to Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, who studies motivation and social development. “She makes a distinction between an entity theory of intelligence and an incremental theory of intelligence. When kids develop an entity theory of intelligence, they believe they have innate, fixed traits. They’re praised for being smart, or being good at math,” which reduces motivation to work toward a goal because one either “has it” or not. An incremental theory of intelligence, on the other hand, is based on acquiring skills that are gained over time, incrementally. These kids are “praised for their effort,” which motivates them to keep going. “They have a growth mindset.”

Videogame play fosters that incremental sense of intelligence, Shapiro explains. “Because players are rewarded for one task at a time — for overcoming one obstacle after another — they learn to understand learning and accomplishment iteratively.” They keep at it till they get it – accomplish a task, complete a quest, go to the next level.

Then there’s the social development part. “Seventy percent of gamers play their games with other people … are actually engaged with one another … play cooperatively. They play competitively. They share tips and tricks. They work together. They teach each other how to get better at the game,” Shapiro writes. These social skills and this collaborative disposition is needed now more than ever in this networked world, not just in social media.

21st-century skills

In three sentences, Arizona State U. professor James Paul Gee explains why digital games belong in school. “Video games are complex systems composed of rules that interact. Gamers must think like a designer and form hypotheses about how the rules interact so they can accomplish goals and even bring about emergent results. Thinking like a designer in order to understand systems is a core 21st Century skill,” Gee told Shapiro in an interview for the MindShift Guide.

Games provide context

But if that doesn’t convince you, read why Dr. Gee says videogames are better than textbooks: “A game manual is given meaning by the game world it is about, not by a dictionary. A physics textbook is a ‘game manual’ for the actions, experiences, and problem solving that physicists engage in…. In school, we give people texts when they have not had enough experience in the worlds the texts are about, the experiences that give the texts meaning. It is as if we were to give kids game manuals without the games…. Whether it is STEM or ELA [English Language Arts], if we do not deliver the game, but only the text, we do not get problem solvers and system thinkers, we get, at best, paper-and-pencil test passers.” We all know that our world needs problem solvers and system thinkers, so let’s feed, not discourage our children’s interest in games that foster these – and get them into school, which can be seen as a child’s community of guided (playful) practice.

It just makes sense that immersive games and virtual worlds provide context and social development – opportunities to collaborate, simulate and strategize; learn or quest with fellow players, helping each other figure stuff out as a team; accomplish a task or reach a goal, then start the learning process all over, seeking assessment or “tests” along the way because they tell you where you are on the learning journey. Sounds a little like life, doesn’t it?

Related links

  • Violent videogames incite moral reasoning: A new study found that “players who engaged in more antisocial acts [in a video game] tended to demonstrate higher levels of guilt, as well as moral reflection,” writes psychology professor Christopher Ferguson in the Huffington Post. “The authors concluded that it may be possible that playing out antisocial behaviors in the safety of a video game may actually lead to moral reflections that could lead to more prosocial behavior in real life” – the very opposite of what many adults, including policymakers, have been assuming. So I suggest we consider making this assumption: that, as Dr. Ferguson put it, our young videogame players are “thoughtful processors of media content and their reactions” to it.
  • There’s so much more in the MindShift series about games. For example, you know how more and more we work in cross-functional teams to solve complex problems in the workplace, well, videogames help with that cross-functional work – see this piece about how games break down barriers between subjects like math, science and history.
  • World of Warcraft: How leading a guild in it helped a student heal from anorexia and how students learning in WoW in one 6th grade language arts class are all heroes
  • Takeaways from brain scientist Daphne Bavelier‘s TEDx Talk in Lausanne: “The videogame discourse: Default to open-mindedness!”
  • “No negative impact of videogame play: UK study”
  • “What Net safety can learn from digital game design”
  • And lots here about brilliant parenting and teaching in and with the extremely popular online game Minecraft

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