Friday, March 1, 2013

But what about the violence?

Today I was asked about the problem of violence with regard to gaming in school. I seem to field this question a lot and have a lot of different responses. I will use this post to collect my ideas and invite your comments to help me make my position clearer. The role of violence in games is complex and the role of violence in games in schools is equally complex.

Team or individual victory
Most games, whether on video screen or off have victory as the ultimate goal. Basketball, hopscotch, speed skating, spelling bees, chess and checkers, Age of Empires (computer), Chaos and Order (mobile internet) all have this in common. The object is to prove you are (your team is) better, smarter, faster, stronger.  Consider the language of victory. We "crush" our opponents, we "blast" past them, we "destroy" their pieces. Is this "violence" or the domination of pieces on the game board.

Real, almost real, virtually real, fantasy, abstraction.
I don't know if the distinction ultimately matters but it seems worth raising the point. In sports controlled aggression is real and physical, one player blocks, tackles, picks and rolls, body checks another.
In checkers, we "capture" the opponents pieces and they are removed from the board.
In role playing games like WoW and OaC fantastic wars between creatures are fought, those killed are sent to the cemetary (removed from the board or returned home) from where they can start again. While in first person shooters, virtual militaries fight each other. On the screen no one really gets hurt.

Does virtual violence lead to violence in daily life?
There is research to support both sides of the argument, but all of it lacks a thorough examination of the concept of violence. There is no research that compares the effect of violent behavior on the football field with violent behavior on the computer screen. Or the study of civil war weaponry in school with violence on the playground.

Do kids know the difference between video games and real life?
There is evidence to suggests that very young children (pre-schoolers) can not discern the difference between events that happen on the screen and those that happen in real life. (Segovia and Bailenson, 2009). But ask any third grader the difference between what happens in a game and in real life, and they will tell you. "It's only a game."

Is there violence in School?
No, and yes. One of our imperatives is to keep children safe.  Yet, because there is violence in the real world we study violence in school. We try to understand history through wars. The civil war is a favorite topic among teachers and students because it can be made so real. We watch reenactments, visit battlefields, study armor and weapons. Many boys (and I dare say history teachers) imagine themselves victors on the battlefield. In elementary school we introduce the terrible brutality of Naziism through the eyes of young children who suffered.  We study scary stuff in which children have been not only heros but victims. And there is no getting around that all children experience some form of victimization by bigger, stronger, smarter, children.

What do games do?
Those who embrace gaming as a source of good learning and even good social action argue that games give us a break from the challenges of daily life. Games give us a sense of accomplishment that we associate with fun. Getting better at games leads to self confidence.  Games teach us to collaborate with teammates who share a common goal and complementary skills. Games help us feel optimistic and competent. (McGonigal, 2010, JP Gee, 2012)

For myself the violence in games is background noise. When I play, my goal isn't to kill, it is to save myself, save my team, save the world. But that is one perspective. I guess the only way to really answer the question, "But what about the violence?" is to talk about the issues and encourage the questioner to decide. What are your thoughts?

Gee, J.P. (2012). Learning with video games, Edutopia via Youtube
McGonigal, J. (2010). Gaming can make a better world. TED
Segovia, K. and Bailenson, J. (2009). Virtually true: Children’s acquisition of false memories in virtual reality. Media Psychology (12) 371–393

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