OK, I’ll admit it: I love to play video games. There is little doubt that one wonderful part of my being a parent is drawing at the kitchen table with my daughter and playing catch in the yard with my youngest son. But I also love battling it out on Shrek2 with my other son. Actually, all four of us regularly jump on the X-box and work collaboratively to get from one level of a game to the next. Now mind you, we also hike in the woods, play with the goats on our little farm, and do creative story telling—so we’re not techno freaks or anything. But the video games are just plain fun for us. Not to mention, it gives me a great venue to teach them about working together, winning gracefully, leveraging strategy, and the power of persistence.
They’re also useful for learning other things. For example, before Richard scrambled around the field in his first soccer game, we bought an FIFA-World Cup Soccer video game. He learned all the rules, strategy, and scoring weeks before he ever touched the field. In the end, it didn’t lessen his love of kicking and scoring on the field at all, it just put some learning of what he called “the boring stuff” (i.e., the rules) into another context. Not to mention, he saw some pretty impressive models of quality soccer playing on the screen. We’ve since used the same strategy with baseball and tennis. In addition, all of my kids use video games to learn language and math skills on sites like DisneyBlast and PBSKids.org. It’s just an everyday part of their routine; to them, it’s as novel as a toaster.
This experience really came to the fore recently when my brother joined the National Guard. And after seeing America’s Army, and learning about the success of this huge online gaming site in preparing new recruits for boot camp, this learning strategy hit home. New recruits that play America’s Army enter basic training already understanding chain of command, battlefield strategy, and base protocols. It doesn’t help them shoot straight or calm the pounding heart in conflict situations, but a good deal of learning can be displaced long before they hit their barracks. Take the time to check it out to see the impressive breadth and depth of this online resource.
Gaming is here to stay. And when you compare the learning our kids will do in school vs. in games remember the often stated maxim: the worst thing you can say about homework is that it’s too hard; the worst thing you can say about a game is that it’s too easy. It’s great that the Army uses these tools to train soldiers, but shouldn’t we be looking to develop something similar to arm our kids for schools and universities. Couldn’t we work together to develop interactive games and online communities for school readiness, college orientations, and even virtual co-opts? The answer is a resounding YES. I just hope it’s a regular part of our children’s learning soon, because playing video games is fun. And when learning is play, it’s the best of all worlds.