The Benefits of Providing a Video Game Education

I know my boys are learning things when they play video games and watch Minecraft videos on YouTube.

I can't always point to what they are learning but I know they often learn about things completely unrelated to Minecraft or the specific game they're playing.

They often have to negotiate their way around and figure out what and how to do things with little to no instructions.

They apply problem solving, reading & reading comprehension skills, and learn to keep on trying over and over and over again.  

They know that you can't do everything right the right the first time and each time they try and fail they learn something new; a new way not to do it.  Then they think of something else that might work and try again.

And yet I was surprised when Alec told me he learned a way to remember the order of planets: My very easy method join Stampy until nighttime.  It was something he overheard in a Minecraft video with Stampy Longnose and he knew that it was an acronym that stood for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus & Neptune.

There are always these tiny snippets of educational things that my boys pick up on and apply to life outside their video game realm that help me see an added value in video games & playing.

 I think as a society we're taught that video games are a waste of time, that they rot kids brains, and that kids ought to do pretty much anything else other than playing video games.  

I overheard so many parents walking into the video game room at Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Saturday and say to their kids "Oh, they're just playing video games in here there's nothing to learn here" or "nothing really to do here."  I thought that was too bad they were so closed minded to the idea and saw many kids walking away disappointed following their parents back out of the room. 

 DON'T get me wrong that is their kids and they're free to do as they please.

I even understand the thinking that there's so much to see at a science and technology fair why spend time in a computer lab when you can play computer games at home?

I get that.

 But, those parents who did stay often learned far more about video games than just how to play.  Talking to students who go to school at WPI and design video games was pretty eye opening.

As a society we're bombarded time and time again about the negative effects of video games on kids development so I don't blame those parents who have a hard time seeing the other side.  I'll even admit that our biggest battle with homeschooling has been over video games, TV, and what I like to dub as "screen time." We have guidelines set in place for our everyday schooling so that all their screens don't take over our lives but for our summer vacation I've tried to lift that rule.

I know that there is a huge growing field with lots of great jobs centered around  technology, computers, & video games; designing them, marketing them, testing them, etc. and if that's where my boys' passions lie I feel like I need to support that passion.

The great part about staying in the video game room for a time is that the boys got to talk to college kids who were designing these games.

  • They learned that the one game they enjoyed playing the most was actually going to be sold to a video game company and could be released soon.  
  • They learned that they need to get really good at math and focus on lots of complicated higher level math problems to design the best games.  
  • They learned that gaming ideas can be found anywhere and often incorporate many of the same game elements from one game to the next.  
By the time we left the campus completely Evan started telling me all about a video game he'd like to design with a samurai as his main character.

He had so many ideas and elements all set up to add to this game that it was quite impressive.  Soon Alec joined in and they started collaborating on ideas.

 Years ago I might have scoffed at them but slowly more and more I'm realizing it's completely possible and I need to support them.

 I pulled up the many different computer coding gaming software that we have used and encouraged the boys to take turns playing yesterday.

Alec and Evan must have spent a good hour each (taking turns back and forth) on our Kodu Game Lab.

They watched the tutorial to re-familiarize themselves with the program and then set to work.  They started making their own lands and islands and then ended up collaborating on one giant piece after lunch.

This simple coding that they do does not require complex algorithms or anything but it does require Evan to work on his reading skills.  They use a process of trial and error to get the game to do what they envision and change that vision frequently.  They're able to control most aspects of the game with just a few clicks and when the command doesn't work the way they want it to they have to figure out what went wrong and try to fix it.

While we were at WPI, I overheard Alec talking to one college student and listened to him tell her that when he grows up he'd like to be a video game tester.  He had a good 20-30 minute conversation with some random stranger during one of our trips to Disney World and when he discovered that she tested video games and Pokemon games in particular he talked her ear off asking all sorts of questions and been hooked on the idea ever since.  He has been storing up ideas and was telling this student how much he enjoys figuring out what to do with a new video game.

He's not one to read the instructions or even read the on-screen instructions much; he just jumps in and explores everything he possibly can.

We've started reading up on how to become a video game tester, what the job entails, how much they make, what other jobs might be related to that, etc.  It's been pretty eye opening to me as well to see all the ways in which the boys might be able to apply this love of technology if they chose to go that route.

In the meantime we'll keep supporting their interests and making sure they try to find a balance between screens and "real" life.


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