Video Game’s Impact

April WIRED MagazineIn the April issue of WIRED Magazine, Will Wright, the inventor of The SIMS, heads off an interesting series of pieces on the impact and direction of video games. In his introductory article, Dream Machines, Wright says,

Just watch a kid with a new videogame. The last thing they do is read the manual. Instead, they pick up the controller and start mashing buttons to see what happens. This isn’t a random process; it’s the essence of the scientific method. Through trial and error, players build a model of the underlying game based on empirical evidence collected through play. As the players refine this model, they begin to master the game world. It’s a rapid cycle of hypothesis, experiment, and analysis. And it’s a fundamentally different take on problem-solving than the linear, read-the-manual-first approach of their parents.

In an era of structured education and standardized testing, this generational difference might not yet be evident. But the gamers’ mindset – the fact that they are learning in a totally new way – means they’ll treat the world as a place for creation, not consumption. This is the true impact videogames will have on our culture. (Wright 110-112)

So many stories here. We live in a rapidly changing world. Who has time to write it all down, edit it, publish and print enough textbooks that can only be read — when learning in a dynamic world requires interacting with that world and playing with it’s information.


Living in a world that is so dependent on so much good information, it becomes just as important for children to learn to be good producers of content as it is to become good consumers of content.


Did you know that we are preparing our children for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet? Will they be better prepared by taking a test at the end of their high school, or by playing video games that they invent themselves?

When they were young, my children were very different kinds of learners. Like myself, my daughter has A.D.D, though she’s making much better grades in college than I did. Still, she spent several years in gifted classes, and she worked very hard, and we worked very hard with her. Once, one of her English teachers required her to learn the ten types of nouns (might have been five). I only know of two types and that was important, because one you capitalized and the other you didn’t. But she was learning about abstract nouns, concrete nouns, and others. I don’t remember.

Anyway, we struggled for a week to help her learn to identify in a sentence, the types of nouns.

Meanwhile, my son, two years younger, and able to learn his spelling words at a glance while playing a video game, was in his room, playing video games. Back then, he played hand-me-down video game systems that came from my parents, as they would upgrade to the newest Nintendo, or whatever. We would rent games for him from Blockbuster, and they almost never came with a manual. This was fine, because he would go into the game, figure out what the goal of the game was, what the rules were, and then figure out how to use the rules to accomplish the goals.

My question is, “Which endeavor was better preparing my children for their future, memorizing and distinguishing types of nouns, or reasoning out how to master video games.”

To be fair, there was, I believe, much value in reasoning out the types of nouns, which is my daughter’s way of learning, using logic and reason. But my son was learning to enter new information environments, to find or establish a goal, learn what the rules and constraints were, and learn to use those rules and constraints to accomplish the goal. They’ll both be doing that the rest of their lives.

I say, “Hack the system.” Turn our classrooms into learning engines. That’s what games are.

Wright, Will. “Dream Machine.” WIRED Magazine April 2006: 110-112.

11 thoughts on “Video Game’s Impact”

  1. This is a strong post! Kudos Mr. Warlick. Not very practical, i.e. it doesn’t fit nicely, so that makes it uncomfortable. That discomfort is facilitative though. My questions:
    Are we afraid of the challenge? Why? What are we afraid of?
    Risk is inherent in everything, so what are the risks of hacking the system?
    How did Will Wright (or insert your favorite) come to see the light? What can we learn from that?
    Do we really value reasoning? questioning?

    There’s more to consider than these, just what came to mind immediately.


  2. To be fair, some of the best progressive educators I’ve known have acknowledged that there are some types of learning that remain in the “math facts” area– i.e., the old ways of teaching and learning them are still important for forming bases of knowledge. There are other systems of teaching base level materials, but they aren’t necessarily effective with all types of learners (is anything?) and some of the “old ways” may be more simple and effective for math and language development. Not exciting, but effective.

    To suggest that “hacking” is the solution is simply one step away from saying “forget the system.” There is relevence in most educational systems, even if portions of them have become increasingly irrelevent. I think the challenge is to determine what aspects remain valuable (at least for a majority percentage of the children), and what may be done outside of school to supplement and replace that which isn’t or will not be done in schools. Gaming may be part of the solution for some of the higher order thinking skills, but I don’t think it’s a replacement for all. Additionally, I don’t necessarily see the value in “hacking” an education system to make gaming a part of the school day (given the hours it may soak outside of the school day).

    So, how about acknowledging the value of “play” outside of the school day, be it games, communications or media mashing? Instead of “hacking,” maybe we need a broader appreciation and focus of educational experiences off the school grounds (and network). As kids swim in the rich content and communications tools provided by technology outside of the school day, how much longer can we pretend the school day is dominant?

    It’s funny you mention the Wired magazine this month– I did the same at my blog last week at Thanks!

  3. This article seems to be getting a load of play this month – I was about to comment on it as well, but I’d end up saying the same thing that you said, without the reference to kids.

    Wright seems to be pointing to the manner in which games are a media that the educational realm needs to start understanding. I agree with Jim that not all things can be taught with games, but at the same time there are so many things that we should at least try to “flesh out” with games. Games can help cement facts just as easily as abstract concepts (think about all the counting card games that are out there).

    People like Bill Mackenty who use games in their classrooms to introduce or let students “live” an event are certainly on the right track.

  4. I want to thank the commenters on this post for continuing the conversation. I agree, wholeheartedly, with Jim, that in no way is this an “either or” situation. Certainly, children need to learn their math facts, the alphabet, site words (or what ever the reading philosophy of the month is), and many other fact-based mulitple-choice content and skills. Yet, I agree with idarknight that we need to be paying a lot of attention to video games, and how kids learn there.

    One article that I read on the plane yesterday was about the economics of video games. They’ve learned that the economics of choice under scarcity holds true in video games. The old Virtual Worlds environment allowed and encouraged players to build anything any time, with an unlimited amount of raw material. It got boring. They learned to design scarcity into the games, requiring players to work, trade, barter, and even utilize eBay, in order to acquire digital tools, powers, health points, and even clothing.

    How might we implement scarcity in the classroom. How might we inspire students to go to the next level, and then provide them with scarce resources to get there, and design learning into the process of acquiring those resources. I like John Becks’ (Got Game) idea of the supervisor (teacher) being the strategy guide.

  5. I read this blog to my two high school age kids and they want their teachers to get it like you do. My son is on an IEP but he is so far beyond his teachers in terms of using technology to help him learn. Unfortunately, they are unwilling to learn the technology and insist that he learn what they want him to learn using their 20th century teaching methods. I always say to educators that if we want to help our students become lifelong learners that we have to model it ourselves. It’s very frustrating for all of us! Change in the real world outside of education blogging is VERY slow!!!

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