What Kids Learn That’s Positive From Playing Video Games

With some spare time on my hands, I was able to read over a fairly recent piece titled “What Kids Learn That’s Positive From Playing Video Games”.  The author, Marc Prensky, challenges the common misrepresentation of video games having a sour reputation of junk food.   The opening paragraph quotes Ben Armstrong, “Our family engages in “mindless” video games from time to time … but it’s treated like “junk food”…. It really has no “nutritional” value for our minds.”

Like much of the content we are diving into right now in class,  Prensky takes a strong stance against these positions saying that we need to pay attention to a game’s underlying messages and required skills buried underneath the graphics, audio, and text.  The latter is what most critics, parents, and educators look at.  The simple fact is that people ought to open their minds to realize that there is a great deal of useful learning going on in addition to or even despite the games surface content.

Prensky then offers what he calls 5 levels of learning: How, What, Why, Where, When.

I will quickly summarize what each level constitutes and urge you to visit his article if you are further interested.

The first level, “How”, is the most explicit level of learning that takes place as one learns how to do something.  This can be figuring out how to move yourself or other objects as need be, how to build up a park or a city, how to drag items, how to fight or how to protect yourself.   Relating this to real life,  games like Pokemon actually teach kids to manage large database of information.  This can easily be applied to other large bodies of information such as plants, animals, or geographic data –if the context were equally compelling.

The second level, “What”, is what players do when they learn the rules of the game.  This includes figuring out the strategy, the possible outcomes in an environment, and essentially how to win the level or game. Prensky offers many connections that essentially attribute to becoming adept at a task or job, you must know the rules and how to approach obstacles.

The Third level, “why”, the player learns the strategy of a game as they play it.  This does flow on from the rules/what. Game strategy often are integrate real life lessons. Such games as modern warfare, the strategy it almost as real as it gets. Military officers have used games to teach strategy for nearly a millennia now.

Level four is , “where”.  This is about learning who you are and it encompasses cultural and environmental learning.  In this aspect of the game, players learn a great deal about the situation they are in based on real life experiences.  Games that take place in different time periods or even on different planets create underlying connections to history and other social cues.

Level five is the “When/Whether”. This is where players learned the value based system and moral decision making.  This involves the player’s emotions and Prensky akwnoledges that this is the must controversial.  Games such Skyrim are so open that the players can do whatever they want with their heroes.

If these points interest you at all—perhaps how he integrates games with real life situations, then I implore you to check our this enlightening piece!

“What Kids Learn That’s Positive From Playing Video Games” – Prensky, 2002.

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