In 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.