Educational practice has developed many innovative learning resources by exploring the potential offered by modern technology. However, when lacking the time or expertise to design classroom digital resources, teachers and learners should rely on the existing techno – educational products on the market. Video and computer games can be used for both teaching and learning of language, providing the teachers are aware of both the positive and negative effects of these educational tools in the English classroom.
Computer games were first developed in universities but, after the appearance of personal computers, a potential was identified and soon recognized by the computer industry to provide virtual home entertainment. Though at first it must have been difficult to predict the dangers of this type of playing which must have seemed safe enough, gaming or computer addiction and other health problems are negative effects almost always related to excessive computer using and young users.
Being designed to appeal to children and adolescents, video and computer games are played by everybody from toddlerhood to adulthood and, since many researchers insist that gaming is or can be learning in a creative, interactive, entertaining way which encourages communication and self-growth, increases motivation and enables visible progress display, many researchers have argued that it is high time video and computer games were introduced in schools.
In an article entitled “The Educational Benefits of Video Games” published in Education and Health in 2002, Dr Mark Griffiths, a professor at Nottingham Trent University, discusses the educational benefits of “edu-tainment” media. According to the author, “videogames can be used as research and/or measurement tools” as he enumerates a number of obvious and relevant reasons to support this view:
- Videogames attract participation by individuals across many demographic boundaries (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, educational status);
- Videogames can assist children in setting goals, ensuring goal rehearsal, providing feedback, reinforcement and maintaining records of behavioural change;
- Videogames can provide elements of interactivity that may stimulate learning;
- Videogames also allow participants to experience novelty, curiosity and challenge. This may stimulate learning;
- Videogames equip children with state-of-the-art technology. This may help overcome technophobia (a condition well-known among many adults).Over time it may also help eliminate gender imbalance in IT use (as males tend to be more avid IT users);
- Videogames may help in the development of transferable IT skills;
- Videogames can act as simulations. These allow participants to engage in extraordinary activities and to destroy or even die without real consequences;
- Videogames may help adolescents regress to childhood play (because of the ability to suspend reality in videogame playing);
- Videogames can be useful because they allow the researcher to measure performance on a very wide variety of tasks, and can be easily changed, standardized and understood;
- Videogames can be used when examining individual characteristics such as self-esteem, self-concept, goal-setting and individual differences;
- Videogames are fun and stimulating for participants.
As a teacher, I have often noticed that there are many reasons why most of my students include playing video or computer games on the top of their hobby lists. An important explanation is that they provide an escape from routine and the stressful demands and expectations in their school life and family or personal life. Another reason why my students play virtual games is that this activity gives them a sense of importance and a level of control they never have in real life. Last but not least, the excitement of a new game with all the challenges it provides, the growing improvement of skills and experience, winning a game or simply reaching a superior level bring instant gratification and the kind of satisfaction which may become a positive, motivational addiction to everyone.
However, the popularity of video and computer games is met with scepticism and concern by many parents, psychologists and educators. What they are mostly afraid of is the violent themes that dominate some of them, making them wonder whether there is a connection between the virtual violence in games and children’s aggressive behaviour and offensive language in real life.
In spite of some studies and research which have claimed that, by being repeatedly exposed to the realistic violence of video and computer games children are becoming more and more desensitized to its effects, there are many voices who claim that virtual games offer the players an opportunity to release stress and aggression. As a result of this debate many games are now labelled with warnings about violent and even sexual content in order to inform the parents and teachers about their suitability for various age groups.
Moreover, apart from the violent games that everybody seems to have heard about, there are many educational games which can be used at school and, being so exciting and intelligent, can teach and inform about virtually every school subject and cultural background. Children, especially the young ones, should be encouraged to play these games and access their knowledge and usefulness as Virtual Reality has revolutionized the ways we teach, learn and grow.
Griffiths, Mark (2002). The Educational Benefits of Video Games. In: Education and Health, Vol. 20, no.3, 2002.