It was my 13th birthday. My family had a tradition of always going out to dinner on someone's birthday, and buying presents for each other has never been a popular practice. However just this one time, I decided to ask my mom if we could save the money that we would spend on a family dinner for my birthday and instead, buy a Nintendo 64 with the game Super Smash Bros. On only one of the handful of instances throughout my life, my mom agreed to fulfill my request. This was only the beginning of the my obsession with video games which simultaneously began the downward spiral of my life.. First it was Nintendo 64, then the new Gameboys, Playstation, Xbox, Playstation 2, Computers, and most recently the Xbox 360. The next generation of gaming consoles, the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 are set to release in the coming fall as well.
During middle school, my best friend introduced me to a new computer game that had just released called Starcraft. Starcraft is a real-time strategy game. These games incorporate developing economies and gathering resources, establishing defendable bases or fortresses with means of producing and training armies, and using those armies to attack and eliminate the opponent or opponents. Starcraft was an international success and there are professional leagues and communities dedicated to playing the game. South Korea is the country that is most recognized for popularizing the game and turning it into a profession. They have two cable television channels with programming dedicated to the game.
I immediately became obsessed with the game and in becoming the best I can be. At first I could only play against the computer and not against other people, but in 9th grade when my family gained access to the internet and bought a new computer, that's when the game transformed from a hobby into an obsession. I played the game religiously during high school. I skipped school often and in my spare time I played Starcraft. There was one point when I played over forty hours straight with no sleep, only stopping to eat or to use the bathroom. I met people and joined gaming communities known as "clans" or "teams". I made friendships with some of the other players which have continued even to this day. In short, I was playing more Starcraft than any other activity I did including sleeping. I was committed to being the best I could be and there were many connections to learning skills that were displayed while trying to get good at the game. I studied replays of professional players and learned their strategies and tactics. I practiced my mouse control and typing speed to get faster and more precise with hand movements. I studied replays of my own games to see where I can improve based on what mistakes I had made during those games. I analyzed statistics of my gameplay and gameplay of others, I broke down data about units and characters, their damage output to other unit types, characteristics such as speed and fire rate, strengths, weaknesses, counters to different units, tendencies of others players, time management, etc. I learned team strategies and tactics for any given situation. Due to my competitive nature, I took pride in being better than average at the game, and I took it pretty hard whenever I lost a game.
To give you an idea of how much I played. If you were to combine all of the recorded games from all of the accounts I had online, I probably had approximately 25,000 games played and remember that these are only the games that were recorded online. I played the game offline as well. Each game took anywhere from 5 minutes to over 1 hour. On average, each game probably took around 15 minutes. So this is only an approximation, but using math:
Total minutes played online: 25,000 x 15 = 375,000
Total hours played online: 375,000 / 60 = 6,250
Total days played online: 6,250 / 24 = 260
The total time I played online is approximately equivalent to 260 days. I spent almost 3/4 of a year of my life playing a video game. If you include the amount of time I played offline, and also included the amount of time I've played video games on consoles, this playing time would most likely total over a year. Wow. It's no wonder my grades were so bad in high school. This leads to the questions: Was there any educational value in this game? Why were video games more engaging to me than education?
Starcraft incorporates thinking about systems. You have to construct and main a economy, production, and manage your armies. It teaches you have to develop and identity you can associate with, and teaches you how to interact with others and with a complex system. It encourages taking on challenges without fear of consequences. It develops cognitive processes that can be generalized and applied to other areas such as multi-tasking, making processes automatic, learning how to analyze and apply new strategies and techniques from past failures, applying math to improve in a game, learning the responsibility of being a part of a team and how to function within a team, etc. Is there a way I can incorporate the use of video games in my practice to help develop cognitive skills? I don't know how practical it would be for me to use Starcraft to teach students how to analyze or teach statistics.
I carry a lot of regret from high school. Even though those events have led to me developing into the person I am today, I find myself constantly asking the question: What if I studied as much or even half as much as I played video games? The answer: I would probably have an advanced degree from a prestigious university or I would be some kind of doctor or lawyer by now. I think. And what if I took an approach to education in the same way I approached Starcraft? Would I have developed more intellectually and academically?
One of the most important challenges that educators face daily in their practice is the problem of finding ways to keep students engaged in academic tasks. I know from personal experience, I will try reading long pieces of text and lose my focus, get bored, and take a break or even fall asleep. When I come home tired and sleepy, it's almost impossible for me to read or think critically and my ability to retain information goes out the window. However, when I'm tired or sleepy and I play a video game, my attention and thinking become more focused. I'm awake, engaged, and want to play more. I do agree there are learning skills that are associated with video games that educators can utilize in their own practice like the skills as described by James Paul Gee in his article "Good Video Games and Good Learning". I wrote in the above paragraphs about several techniques and skills often found and encouraged in educational settings. Nevertheless, I think the greatest potential lies in the motivating factor of video games. This leads to the question of how to transform education to become more "game-like" as Gee states in his article. Would that really be beneficial to all students?