Fear and addiction in computer gaming
Tuesday 12 April 2011
by Kyle Mawer
Hi, my name’s Kyle and I’m co-authoring Digital Play with Graham Stanley. In this and subsequent blogs we want to look at how to use video games with a language learning class. In this blog I’d like to address a question that has arisen both in my own mind, in class, with parents at parents’ evenings and amongst people in general. That question is, “should we really be encouraging the use of video games when they can prove so addictive?”
Personally, I think the greatest fear many educators, parents and people in general have about computer games is of their reputation for being so addictive. Being an educator myself I find that sometimes there is this little voice at the back of my mind asking me if I might actually be encouraging compulsive gaming behaviour amongst my learners. But then again how do we judge what compulsive gaming behaviour actually is? Interestingly enough there is no formal medical or psychological diagnosis for what we call video game addiction. Having said that, we probably all have an idea of what a video gaming addiction involves. No doubt if asked you would say an addiction involves a degree of playing compulsively, playing to the extent you become isolated from family and friends as well as an element of fixating on the achievements within the video game at the expense of achieving “real world” goals. Well, if our fear is that we may encourage these traits then let’s break that definition down a bit and ask, do we really encourage an addiction?
Well, the gaming we do in a language class is far from compulsive or uncontrolled. From the beginning there is a selection process at work that filters out inappropriate video games – inappropriate in the way of content and as a potential language learning tool. There is also either a clear language focus, a specific and relevant topic involved or valuable skills practice present. Staging a lead in to the play task as well as a post play activity all need to be thought about. In turn, the way learners sit, interact and perform the task is anything but impulsive but conceived, planned and executed using concise and clear instructions (at times a challenge in and of itself with some learners).
It is the very fact that video games are probably designed and built to intentionally be a ‘little addictive’ that we should attempt to harness this for good. It is almost a social obligation for us as educators to do so.
Playing in isolation
Of course, sometimes playing a video game individually can be beneficial for language learners especially when there is text embedded within a game. For instance, learners can play and engage with the language at their own pace, check any words up they don’t understand and play under the pressure the game challenges them personally at. You should no more discourage this than say discourage a learner from reading or listening to a short text on their own. Incidentally enough, I doubt if one person who reads as much as another plays video games would be seen in such a negative light. Reading can be quite a solitary pleasure too but would we be as quick to condemn an addiction to books – I think not.
Then of course you have online games (such as MMORPGs) that involve connecting to and communicating with a large social network. Does this mean that learners can be working quietly while practicing their writing (and at times speaking and listening skills) with lots of other people? Yes, it can and does. I’ll certainly sign up for that. You’re learners will probably also have to sign up for a free account and then log in but hey, that’s just the boring part.
Fixating on game’s goal and not ‘real life’ goals
There are simulation games out there waiting for you to play that have very much a life skills agenda or raising awareness about social issues. Whether it’s a game that raises awareness of the plight of refugees, such as against all odds, or the dangers of natural disasters, such as stop disasters, the games goals are very much about life and real world issues. On top of that isn’t learning a new language a real life goal? I’m not sure if I mentioned this earlier but I use video games for specific language learning goals. If I’d neglected to say this earlier then I apologise now. Our agenda is definitely a pro-gaming one.
So what about all these studies about video game addiction? Don’t they prove anything? Well, if you read much of Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson’s work entitled Grand Theft Childhood then you’ll arrive at the conclusion that no, they generally don’t. They argue that much of the initiative behind many anti video game studies comes from groups that have a clear moral or political agenda. As such when a market research company is commissioned to conduct a study it’s more than likely that they ‘ll feel obliged to start with the assumption that ‘yes’ there is a problem with video game addiction and ‘yes’ we can produce the statistics to prove it.
The way I look at addiction and gaming is the same way I look at any small vice or minor obsession(who doesn’t have a weakness for chocolate?). In moderation I believe it’s good for you, there’s a right time and place for it too and it’s enjoyable to share it with friends.
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