Thoughts on Interactive Gaming

Posted: December 23, 2008 in digital culture, edushifts, gaming, reflections

I am going to deviate from my typical topic of conversation to share some experiences, reflections and conversations I have had of late concerning the use of interactive gaming in learning.  I will begin by admitting that I am an amateur gamer and a novice when it comes to understanding the role of gaming can play in helping kids learn.  However, some recent experiences and discussions merit some consideration here.


Courtesy of Flickr user el3enawe

Back in October of 2008, my wife and I bought a Nintendo Wii.  The primary motivator for purchasing the game was to experience the new level of interactivity today’s games offer as the last gaming console that I’ve ever owned was the Atari 2600.  WOW has gaming come a long way!  In all truthfulness, while many generations of gaming consoles have passed me by, I have played many games on my computer including the Command & Conquer series and more recently, Civilizations III.  A turning point for me occurred  only 4 days ago (as of this writing), when my wife came home with Rock Band 2.  We’ve played Rock Band in the past and really enjoyed it and have waited with impatience for the new version to be released for the Wii.  Let’s just say that it didn’t take long for me to get addicted.

I’ve been thinking about the potential impact such games can have in learning and on community-building.  I had a brief conversation with @mrrobbo in Twitter recently about using the Nintendo Wii to encourage physical activity.  He mentioned that while other staff at his school are lukewarm to the idea of bring in a gaming console to encourage physical activity, he finds it to be a useful tool.  In addition, I’ve been commenting on David Warlick’s recent blog post on the issue of gaming. These two conversations and my experiences in playing Wii Sport and Rock Band 2 have gotten me excited about what is possible when interactive gaming is used in educational settings.


Courtesy of Flickr user Jake of

Firstly, let me say straight out that I accept that playing tennis in Wii Sports or playing the drums in Rock Band are not substitutes for the real thing.  I don’t delude myself into believing that playing a guitar in Guitar Hero actually teaches anyone how to play the guitar.  However, as Jesse Brown identifies in his recent podcast episode in CBC’s Search Engine, there really is something profound going on here.  While the purpose of Jesse’s podcast is to look at the darker side of interactive gaming, he clearly makes the point that interactive gaming is about more than just the game; it’s also about socializing and about community. This is a point that I made in response to Gary Stager’s comment to David Warlick’s blog post.  While interactive games in their current context cannot substitute for real life experiences, these games are connecting kids with songs and stories of the past.  They are using interactive games to connect with others as singing around the campfire did for past generations.  In the case of Guitar Hero or Rock Band, these games are getting kids talking about music and giving them experiences that they would likely have never had.  This really hit home for me this very evening when I saw a young lady in Future Shop who appeared to be 11 or 12 years of age begging her parents to buy her the AC/DC Rock Band Track Pack.  If it weren’t for the game, would this young lady even know who AC/DC is?  If her parents were ever fans of AC/DC, just think about all of the cross generational personal connecting this game could encourage that would have likely never happened.  When, in the past, have you ever seen kids embracing music of their parents generation?  In a strange sense, video games appear to be changing the way kids are relating to content 0f the past.  While this may be a bit of a strech, who knows, perhaps this may be a way to ensure that the stories of the past are maintained and passed on.

Gary Stager argues that this is cause for concern because games such as Guitar Hero and Rock band war connecting kids to music that is of the “lowest level of simplicity”.  While I believe he is correct about the simplicity piece, I do not agree that this is a cause for concern.  It appears that this is a new way digital tools are transforming our social relationships and the way we form community.  The only thing I find sad about all this is that it took a commerical enterprise looking to make money to figure it out.

  1. dougpete says:

    I wrestle with this concept, Rob. As a computer science teacher, I know the benefit of teaching the Towers of Hanoi. Teaching how to write games introduces students to GUI design, problem solving, and a method to encourage them to test every exception.

    Then, we move to the realm of educational gaming which purports to teach facts and real life situations in this structure. Take Marc Prensky’s for example, another of Gary Stager’s favourites. Certainly an avenue for learning basic facts.

    Then, we move to things like the WII and I’m fearful that we’re taking something that’s pure entertainment and trying to make it fit somehow into education. I’d be more comfortable if the design came from educational research rather than a retrofit from a commercial entity.

    I don’t see a definitive answer but I’m glad that people are talking about it. In my mind, I know that designing and constructing the game has huge benefits. I’m not as sure that the other implementations have as much payback. I’m delighted to see that quality music is benefiting from this.

    I’d rather my kids pick up a real guitar and learn how to play that though.

    All the best for the holidays.

  2. Perhaps it’s time that some of these game makers get educators on board and part of the design team to add some educational value to these games. However, I’m not sure that the makers of Call of Duty or Gears of War care to make their games even partially educational – they just want to bring in revenue which is why I’m a little disappointed that commercial business has been able to figure this whole thing out while educators continue, as usual, to dismiss video games completely.

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