I am about to propose two bold ideas. However, some people may not find them especially bold, whereas others might not think the word ‘bold’ should even be in their descriptions. I am going to propose them nonetheless.
Firstly, I believe elementary school kids should play videogames as part of their educational curriculum. And secondly, I think the elderly should also be encouraged to play videogames. Now I shall attempt to provide some reasoning behind these utterances of madness.
Note: This article is kind of a written corollary to my earlier piece The Morality of Gaming.
I would venture that the importance of kindergarten is based not necessarily upon what a child learns, but that his or her mind is prepared for learning. While early elementary school years teach several vitally important concepts such as the alphabet, numbers, and colors, it could be infinitely more beneficial to prepare young minds for the reception of more complicated knowledge. While I perhaps don’t possess a substantial frame of reference for the current condition of elementary school curriculums, I seem to remember my own time as involving lots of macaroni art and building blocks. I am therefore led to assume that sprinkled amongst the basic core subjects are also sessions for arts and crafts, music, and stories. I’m sure naptime is in there as well. The former areas of study are designed to encourage a child’s creativity. And physical education also helps children receive some exercise as well as further develop their motor skills. Surely the implementation of videogames to the curriculum could do wonders for children’s imaginations, hand-eye coordination, and overall capacity for learning.
Many of today’s videogames reward those with sharp brains, quick eyes, and fast fingers. First-person shooters are extremely fast paced with a great deal of visual stimuli. On consoles, the player must often coordinate two thumbs on the analog sticks as well as utilizing the trigger finger and a selection of face buttons. On the computer keyboard, multiple fingers work the directional commands while the mouse provides the look/turn/fire functions. Fighting games are also frantic button mashers, where various pressed sequences ranging from the simple to the massively complex unleash special moves and devastating combos. Many opponents of videogames believe they rot the brain…or words to that effect…but this particular brain has never been more alert and videogames are a huge aspect of my life.
Needless to say that some gaming naysayers would decry the idea of placing violent first-person shooters or fighting games into the hands of young kids. Heck, someone will probably bring up GTA without any prompting. However, I am not proposing that we put those games in front of kids. Developers need to be more creative to appeal to the chronologically challenged. What about a dodge ball game with FPS mechanics? Instead of shooting guns, you are throwing balls. Furthermore, much of the violence could be taken out of a game. Instead of falling over or reacting with rag doll physics when struck, maybe your head turns blue or something. Or perhaps the area you hit turns a different color or into a clown outfit. When someone is completely a different color, or becomes a clown, they are out of the game, or they re-spawn. I am sure that someone with more experience in designing videogames could come up with some thoroughly marketable, appealing and unique ideas.
A videogame such as this would teach many things to our children: hand-eye coordination in aiming throws, locating other players (perhaps on an in-game map) for increased spatial awareness. If power-ups were placed in the game, remembering locations would improve memory, whereas team games would enhance social communication skills and quest cooperation. Games designed around real games, like the above mentioned dodge ball example, could promote interest in the actual physical activity.
These videogames don’t have to reside completely in the realm of ‘button mashers’ either. Games involving puzzles could also help to expand children’s capacity for learning. Personally, I would also add completing Myst and Riven to a list of great intellectual accomplishments in my life. These two particular games are certainly known for stretching the brain. Their gameplay revolved around a continuous process of ‘here’s a puzzle, there is information somewhere to help me solve this puzzle, and I must figure out its location and how to use said information in order to complete the puzzle’. From a personal standpoint, the feelings of satisfaction that coursed through my very being after successfully unraveling these two videogames is something I wish I could experience again for the first time. While I would be amazed if kindergarten children could successfully conquer either Myst or Riven, again, there are plenty of creative industry individuals who could make similar videogames but on a child’s level.
These types of games would teach logical association. The puzzles in Myst and Riven did not require book smarts. They required the ability to establish connections between pieces of set information. Some scientists believe this is essentially what intelligence is: the connections between neurons. The more connections you have the smarter you are. These videogames could also build on the player’s creativity. Children could imagine they were in the incredibly engrossing fantasy worlds of Myst or Riven. And, if the children were allowed to create an avatar like in many of today’s MMORPGs, that activity would also lead to defined creative expression. Teamwork could also prove essential in these puzzle games. After playing Myst with a friend, my dad and I got together and tackled Riven. We are currently in the middle of Myst III: Exile. Playing these types of videogames with a partner could help the kids develop their communication skills as they attempt to explain specific reasoning to their teammate.
Utilizing different types of games might also help teachers realize where different strengths lie within their students. While some may excel at the fast-paced action games, others might shine through their ability to swiftly solve puzzles.
Conversely, some people might argue that videogames, by their very definition, promote inactivity. I will not argue this point, however, as I have seen many a gamer aerobically move the controller in hopes that their onscreen persona will mimic the grandiose gesture. I believe the Sony Eye Toy could provide some giant evolutionary steps in combining exercise and gaming. Creative developers should be able to find ways to get kids active while at the same time sharpening their reflexes and awareness.
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, I think videogames could be extremely important in promoting the welfare of seniors. My dad is a doctor, and he sees more and more elderly patients whose minds are beginning to slow. While such an occurrence can be expected upon reaching a certain age, those showing signs of senility are becoming younger and younger. Many a news story has been devoted to the problem of Alzheimer’s. And, while Alzheimer’s is a serious problem, my dad believes that premature senility in the elderly may often pose as the former disease. Television allows people to be passive, and many seniors are only partaking of this kind of entertainment.
Playing videogames could help the elderly keep their minds active. The very nature of videogames involves interaction. Quick action games would keep seniors’ brains moving at a swift clip. They could even form their own online multiplayer leagues where they wouldn’t have to compete against the young whippersnappers. Strategy games could help retain seniors’ attention spans and their levels of extended concentration.
One way to promote videogames among seniors would be to emphasize the notion of simulation, as many are considerably more limited in what they can accomplish physically. Videogames could allow them to realize and enjoy personas they simply can’t act out anymore. Sports games could provide graying stars with the chance to relive the glory days. Straight-up simulation games like The Sims would create new lives for them…though that perhaps sounds a little patronizing. I think associating exotic locales in the games would be very popular with seniors. Many might wish they had gone to a particular place during their lifetimes, and videogames could help them realize that in a virtually environment. Furthermore, online games could help seniors feel part of a community during a time when they are no longer able to get out and about socially.
In the end, videogames could help seniors hold onto their neural connections longer by keeping their brains more actively challenged. It will be interesting to see if the generations—such as the one I belong to—that have grown up with videogames continue playing them into their later years. We could then learn whether some of my editorial inklings are shrewd insight or sheer madness.
So I guess the crazy message of this article is go ahead and give videogames to your young children and your grandparents. I think developers have a great opportunity to create products that help jumpstart the minds of the young minds and prolong those of the old. As the wise ones said, “…time will tell us all.” Now that I’ve said my piece, I shall return to exercising my mind.