Nobody can deny that video and computer games have become some of the most popular, accessible and affordable sources of entertainment especially for the children and teenagers living in remote rural areas where there are no alternatives such as clubs, cinemas or theatres. To many Romanian students, regardless of where they live, online games are real opportunities to interact with other English speakers, sometimes with native ones. Therefore, playing computer games means exposure to authentic computer – assisted English environments and the chance to communicate with native speakers of English from the UK, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada etc. via in-game communication tools or additional voice communication software.
According to my own students whose English proficiency levels range from elementary to intermediate and advanced levels, unlike the classroom, a gaming environment guarantees the need for authentic communication followed by a desire to socialize and get in touch with peers from different corners of the world. Additionally, during their online playing they need to read texts, listen to dialogues, talk to other players via text or oral chat, collaborate while planning game strategies, discussing maps and routes, solving problems, making decisions, exchanging information or helping each other.
Playing online games also requires serious ICT knowledge which involves understanding computer terms, specifications and abbreviations, giving and following instructions in English. However, as a teacher, I have always warned my students about a negative aspect associated with their virtual community of English users: the frequent use of simplified or reduced registers (ungrammatical sentences, misspelling and omission of words, contractions and abbreviations).
Another important aspect related to computer games is that they give the students an occasion to adopt a reversed role and teach their teacher(s) how to play and what lessons can be taught and learned as a result. As far as I am concerned, the mutual sharing of knowledge and experience between the students and the teachers is a modern, necessary step to take in order to improve our vital partneship for education, personal development and growth.
Moreover, I have discovered that playing video or computer games is a very rich source of English vocabulary which involves listening to and using new words and expressions which undeniably enrich their knowledge of the world. Some students say that when playing online there is plenty of stress-free interaction in English which affects their acquisition of the foreign language in a positive way. Besides, electronic interpersonal communication is capable of generating input and producing output, of encouraging negotiation of meaning and instant feedback.
The positive side of games also includes an opportunity to be the hero or the villain without consequences in real life, the chance to build or simply live some of the most unrealistic dreams and the accessible and entertaining way of developing one’s creativity and imagination together with the general knowledge levels.
Nevertheless, when discussing the negative effects of virtual gaming, we should mention the lack of attention and concentration caused by too much playing, the correlation between the amount of time spent on playing video and computer games and health risks such as obesity and poor vision, low academic performance or even school failure, the effects on their social and personal lives and the nervousness and stress they experience after “too much” time spent in the virtual world. What is more, the majority of the students are aware of some serious psychological problems such as aggressive behaviour and violent language caused by the violent content of some games.
The majority of the parents I have discussed with admit they have very little knowledge of the content of the video or computer games that are played by their children and they exercise very little or no control regarding the amount of time they spend playing. As long as there are no additional costs, a lot of parents agree with this type of “harmless” leisure especially because it is an indoor activity and being at home, in their rooms, is considered to be “safe” enough. However, school psychologists warn us all that parental monitoring is recommended when it comes to the content of a video or computer game. Furthermore, the amount of time spent in front of the computer or video screen, the number of games played are also two major factors which may influence our students’ behaviour and personality in a negative way.
Children’s parents definitely have the power to influence children and their choices. An important responsibility of the parents is the supervision they provide in terms of quality – the type of games the children play – and quantity – the amount of time they spend doing this activity. Another reason for concern is that some children begin to play on computers too soon, in their early childhood. Psychologists warn that the younger the children are when they start playing games, the more addicted they become.
Some parents are aware of the beneficial effects of playing and, among them, they mention the development of computer skills, the Internet literacy and the opportunity to discover one’s native talent or calling (children could become interested in drawing or graphics, for example) while using English (as most of the websites and platform they visit are in this language).
It is also true that many parents acknowledge that these virtual games have some disadvantages too. They complain that their children spend too much time in front of their screen as many of these games are designed to cause some form of addiction, that playing games has had a harmful effect on their children’s vision or spine and they admit that some of these digital games even trigger psychological problems. In my opinion, everybody (parents, teachers and students) should remember that computer addiction is a serious problem which must be addressed properly considering the disastrous effects it may have on educational, psychological, physical and social levels. This is why the phrase “Prevention is better than cure” attributed to the Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus should be taken into consideration once more.
All these aspects considered, I believe that, before making the decision that digital games deserve a place in our children’s lives, even in the English classroom, we should warn them of the dangers they may bring and prepare them for their potential downsides.