If you’re the sort who thinks a game played on the laptop or your handheld device is a waste of time or you link VR with another expensive and time-consuming entertainment for spare time or you believe that AI is only for those who have an interest in robotics, you have no idea how fast education today has evolved. To tell you the truth even I belong to a generation where education was all about cramming definitions and derivations and another school year meant having to buy books heavier than my imagination… and all that I did in my life after school did not necessarily have any relationship with what they taught me there. I remember asking my science teacher, ‘You say water has hydrogen and oxygen, Ma’am. But water also has impurities that hurt my throat. Why does drinking this water make me sick?’
My teacher replied, ‘Learn what you are being taught. Talk about impurities in your moral science class and consult your family doctor when you fall ill.’
Things remained the same through my college years and it was only in 1994 that I first stood facing a real computer in one of the labs at the University of York where Specky, my wife was working for her DPhil in Mathematics as a Commonwealth scholar. DOS was the operating system then and as I picked up a few pamphlets that had all the instructions, a friendly student from France said, ‘No point in cramming commands. Just start playing.’
‘Just start playing?’ I murmured but sat down in front of a desktop that wasn’t occupied and wondered how one plays with a black screen that has a cursor blinking and dancing.
The Frenchman smiled and said, ‘You said you’re a poet, right? Start by feeding all your poems in there and I bet the first print-out will stay in your memory forever.’
Yes, I didn’t have to do much painful learning and yet managed to tip-tap and punch into a life that playfully helped my poetry come alive. Discovering commands became a game that I then played just as much as games at ???????????????????.
Games in the classroom
In my time, the only games we played inside our classroom were online games like heartburst at KingCasino when the teacher wasn’t there. But times have changed and my school history teacher who came and enacted some dramatic parts in the life of Razia Sultan in his attempt to pull the subject out of a mere medley of dates and events is now no longer enough. There are opportunities that innovative technology and the internet have brought and to ignore them will be nothing short of unpardonable foolishness. Mere monologues and passive communication of information is no longer the desired path to informed pupils who will at some time later be expected to go out in the big bad world to identify and solve presumably complex problems of a diverse nature. Games have made their entry and this technology is going to remain. Those who accept will possibly find they have given the world a more responsible group of citizen.
Talking of games and their synaptic link to education, I read on the UNESCO-MGIEP website of games like ‘Antura and the Letters‘ that has won the EduApp4Syria prize as it helped Syrian refugees learn to read and improve their psychological well-being. VR experiences such as ‘The Last Goodbye‘ improved awareness and empathy by making players listen to one of the oldest holocaust survivors. Most games are geared to help a player decide and do and not just dilly-dally and remain passive… and this soon gets to be a part of one’s instincts and gets reflected in real life activity soon enough. The UNESCO-MGIEP way to develop peaceful and sustainable societies is to transform education systems. They believe that ‘the brain can be ‘wired’ or ‘trained’ in intellectual as well as emotional intelligence, the Institute promotes the whole-brain approach to learning. The Institute’s flagship project is designed to equip young learners with competencies of empathy, compassion, mindfulness and critical inquiry to effectively address the global issues and in turn develop more peaceful and sustainable societies.’
If games seek to embed core values of empathy and critical thinking in formal and informal learning spaces, even game designers and conceptualizers need to create ‘enjoyable and immersive experiences for learners‘. Chris Crowell, who has over 20 years of experience in the video games industry and has worked with known brands like NASCAR, Tiger Woods, The Sims, and KungFu panda believes that ‘it is time that digital games were taken seriously‘ and were seamlessly merged with the conventional nodes of learning systems that exist today. Games need to go beyond isolated gaming experience and bring in a lot of intuitive catalysis of learning at the subliminal level. Zigor Hernandorena Juarros believes that games with just ‘cute-graphics and sugar-coating content with a thin layer of interactivity’ are like ‘knowledge being delivered the old fashioned way. The pill has just been made a bit easier to swallow.’
It is a fact that games teach. They cannot possibly sustain interest if they don’t. Satta king is a very interesting game. So a child can be taught how to make use of a protractor to calculate angles and decide on navigation and the planning of routes… for instance, a game wanting to bring in awareness about the environment and the role of the player in it can very well use prompts like locating, identifying, picking up, and getting rid of garbage appropriately. So here a player is instinctively drawn towards improving his geometry basics and as a bonus is learning to be a responsible citizen. Game developers call this ‘appropriate environment and narrative‘ that makes players use the tenets of creative gaming impulses to meander through subject matter like humanities, mathematics, or science and imbibe a bagful of socially relevant actions that will hopefully stay on and manifest in the right way in the real world. This the way the virtual needs to interact with the real world. This isn’t all because tagging along as benefits are critical thinking, communication, and collaborative skills. Games are much more than just a few hours of fun. Zigor believes that ‘our current education systems do not properly prepare the new generations to thrive in our increasingly shifting, complex and uncertain world.‘ Acceptable adaptive behaviour is what games attempt to target, and Matthew Farber in a paper titled ‘Learning Empathy by Playing Video Games‘ clarifies that ‘in teaching, consider using games as spaces of experiential learning and inquiry, like a shared experience or digital field trip.’ Catherine Emond insists that ‘serious academic studies have demonstrated that play stimulates learning and positively affects motivation and tolerance.’
Proliferation and penetration of the games in education logic
One of the questions that bothers me is if the experiential virtual learning that comes from digital games can be truthfully applied by the players when in a real life situation. This is because real life behavior can and does get influenced by more than one source and the games are just one of them. As of now there seem to be no long term studies but theoretically the concept rests on a firm foundation. Game guides and walkthroughs, like fae farm guides, help players enjoy games more by giving them useful tips and strategies.
The other concern has more to do with the fiscal implications involved with all the hardware and software that tags along with anything digital. The budgets will surely make it difficult for schools in tier II and tier III towns and the vast rural belt… and this means unless there is a concerted effort to bring this format of technology-education combination to the less privileged schools it runs the risk of remaining an elitist concept. The kids coming from the more privileged schools are anyway far ahead in awareness in many ways though I must add here that awareness and acceptance of socially relevant concepts has nothing to do with riches and privileges. Let me recount here a rather painful incident that happened when I was on my way back from a hike to Budher caves near Chakrata. One smart-looking communication-savvy girl from Mumbai had finished drinking all the water in her disposable plastic bottle. She paused for a few moments and then swung the empty bottle down the steep slope through the rows of fir and pine trees.
I went up to her and said, ‘Was that necessary? Couldn’t you have waited for some time until we reached the base where the forest chowki would surely have had a bin?’
She looked at me silently, said nothing, and walked on.
I wondered then and I wonder now if formal education, riches and privileges made any real difference to a person’s social responsibilities. I guess people like this girl need digital games like bingo game apps to help her understand sustainability. As Ezra Koenig said, it is video games that ‘work different muscles that maybe you don’t normally use.’ So I guess there is more to games than shooting alien spaceships. As a gamer, you can play optimally when you utilize gaming accessories such as an under $100 gaming headset.
18 September 2018