Video games have often had a bad wrap in the media, but I believe are actually a really important tool for future generations to learn the skills needed to adapt to our ever-changing technological future.
There are a few misconceptions around video games, which I think it’s important to address first. Firstly, the largest group of people to play video games are not kids or teens, but men in their 30s. There are as many genres of video games as there are books or films: mystery, action and yes: even dating games. The type of game can be anything from solving a puzzle, to a role playing game – think when you are a kid enacting cops and robbers. But, in video games of today, role playing could be acting as a refugee or a member of the UN with stories that are so rich, that many are actually turned into films afterwards.
Let’s look at how video games are an important tool for learning and problem solving.
Educational video games have actually shown that they are more effective at conveying the core concepts of a school syllabus than traditional teaching, because games are interactive (James Paul Gee is doing some kickass research in this area).
Video games mean that you also experience worlds and challenges you never would in real life. For example, in the game series Mass Effect, which is set in space, where you play a soldier who is the commander of a spaceship. You negotiate politics with alien races, but also fight in skirmishes with sentient robots. On more than one occasion, you need to attend a council meeting to negotiate between these races to avoid war. These are skills we would never experience in real life (unless you worked in robotics, at NASA or in politics, I guess), but these skills in problem solving and negotiation are very transferable skills.
Let’s keep going. Positive role models isn’t something that usually comes up when talking about video games. But, these are characters which you embody, so they need to have depth.
Let’s look back at Mass Effect. Your character is Commander Shepard and you are a brave, strong fighter who is strategic in battle. But what if these same qualities are attributed when you character happens to be …female?
What this game does is illustrates a world where “the gender game” just doesn’t exist.
Female characters are leaders and asked about battle tactics and not what they’re wearing. Women can, basically, spent a hundred hours living life as if they were Ellen Ripley. And that is a pretty great role model.
But now, let’s look at the most powerful of these: identity creation.
We all know we juggle between identities in the real world depending on context. You can be a boss, a friend, a parent, a fan of NRL. But in the right circumstances video games actually have the ability to help you forge another of these identities, because video games are so immersive. But … you need to be playing a role with values which you personally identify with and which society reinforces.
So in Mass Effect, ) you’re playing a strong leader who is female, 2) and you believe that is important for society to have female leaders, 3) and society tells you that females at the top of businesses are important: then that’s when you’ve got the seeds of identity creation.
Could this use of identity creation be used to empower women? Or help people recover from trauma? Or break the poverty cycle?
In the end, video games are a powerful educational tool and can be used to make an educational syllabus more accessible. It can represent strong role models which we might not see in mainstream media. And, they have the power to forge a new identity for someone.
Video games are a tool: they aren’t inherently good or bad, but they are what we, as a society make them. They can be used to create positive social impacts. It’s really up to us to decide what lessons we wish to impart on future generations.