Friday, October 28, 2011

Games for education isn't a bad idea

When I wrote my review on Jane McGonigals book "Reality is Broken", I complained about how she tried to hold games above reality in what I saw as basically the opposite of what non-gamers always do towards games - arbitrarily deciding that something is better than something else based on old, faulty or biased information. In that post I wrote;

"The gaming industry, and more specifically gamers, have fought since the late 70's to be considered a part of the normal entertainment system."

Basically, gamers constantly have to fight the common misconception that "gaming" is something bad. That it is something that solely can be about an ultimately wasteful use of time and that that time nearly always could've been spent doing something better. If we by "better" mean something like earn money or get smarter, that might have been true 20 years ago. Few people got richer or smarter by playing Mario (although this line of reasoning of course completely forgets how important good old fun is for anyone to become successful). But they seem to have completely missed the last 20 years of gaming development. Games can be social, they can have you earn money or become smarter, they can do loads of stuff that whatever "good" hobby does. When writing the above, little did I know that real life soon would give me the perfect example to prove my point. Prepare for a small rant.

I was casually reading through one of Swedens largest news papers - Dagens Nyheter (News of the Day) - when I stumbled upon this little pearl. Headline said, with my hobo-translation:

"Got to play video games during class".

Oh? I thought, and clicked to read more. Like I said, although I think there are plenty of games that suit a learning environment I don't think playing Mario during math will have you learn much algebra. But that wasn't the issue at all - no, apparently the Skolinpektionen (swedish School Inspection, set to make sure schools live up to standard and law) had gotten a report of a school that used a dance mat and an Xbox (god forbid!) during gym class. I was immediately intriguied. Because to me, that sounds like farking genious idea - using a dance mat to get people interested in getting sweaty. School Inpection however, did not agree with me. They had raised a warning finger and told this particular school that this was not ok, with this line of reasoning (yet again my hobo-translation).

"The gym teacher who worked with the children during the fall doesn't work there anymore, instead do some of the students go to Gyms or use a video game console - an Xbox - with a dance mat. That can't be enough to reach the goals, says School Inspection".

No I agree, that isn't enough to reach the goals. Because gym class isn't just about busting your ass, it's about learning proper diet and how training affects the body among other things (at least in sweden). Just leaving the students to take care of all that by themselves isn't going to give them the knowledge they need and are supposed to get from Gym Class (it's also not the only issue this school has apparently). And that's not what I have a problem with here either, I totally agree that they need a teacher and more than just training. But that isn't how it is worded. Or at least that isn't how I interpret it.

With the headline "got to play video games during class" and telling us that they have nothing but a dance mat, they want to make us think about that these kids are basically not doing anything during their gym classes. I wonder if anyone at School Inspection (or the journalist in this case) ever has set foot on a dance mat. I think I spend more calories during 30 minutes on a dance mat than I ever did during those 100 times of playing Rounders I did during Gym Class. Because playing the dance mat is seriously no walk in the park, it takes a lot of energy - a lot. Alone it's not enough to reach the goals, sure. But it's a damn good step in that direction.

And what is the real difference between playing Rounders and playing a dancing game on the Xbox anyway? They're both games aimed at having you bust your ass. The only difference really is that one is a lot cheaper than the other, especially if you have 30 students who are supposed to get some sort of training - 30 dance mats, xboxes and tv-screens isn't as practical and cheap as just throwing the kids outside on the football field with a bat and a ball.

But even if it was, even if the school for some reason had perfect opportunity to let a kid play a dance mat instead of Rounders, they wouldn't do it simply because the one is played on a gaming console and the other isn't. And games can never be good for anything else but wasting time, right? This is what really bothers me. I remember from my gymming days in school (which I always forgot to bring shoes to, that sucked during bandy), that half the class didn't bother to show up and or just sat at the sideline every time. I don't think a dance mat would encourage every kid to start training some, but it sure as heck would encourage some of the kids who currently don't. It annoys me when people turn down a perfectly viable and great idea just because it is a game. I would've totally loved to be able to play a dance mat during my gym classes, instead of the endless walking, skiing and rounders that we did.


  1. Skiing during gymclass? Wish I had that back there in my school days. Just start with skiing a few years ago and I love it. Try to go to the Alps ones every year for at least 8 days to do some skiing. The only ski possibilities around here are artificial (indoor) tracks.

  2. I read the article just now and I think it is the journalist that sucks. The beef that skolinspektionen probably has with the school is the lack of qualified teachers. I think what they are trying to say in the part which you quote is more in the lines of: "They no longer have a gym teacher. Instead they do other stuff, among them playing video games. This can not be enough to reach the goals." Your translation is correct however and this just goes to show that the journalist had a foot in his mouth.

    And also: The article also states that some of that schools teaching was supposed to be done over WoW, an interesting point all by it self. However this too is critiqued by skolinspektionen in the article. Not in it self, or else the school program had never been approved in the first place, but simply because the teaching is lacking.

    So in summary: The title of the article was a bit overblown. It does not clearly state in it self that it was the gaming parts that where bad, but the teachers did not preform up to standards.

    There are two types of skiing: Down Hill and Cross-country skiing. And yes, down hill skiing is quite fun, but noooo, nothing fun in gym class of course, only cross-country and that is mostly just straining/tiring and seldom all that fun.