Do we really want gamer culture invading our classrooms?

Posted: November 22, 2014 in EC&I 831 Social Media & Open Education, ECI831 Final Digital Project, Ed Tech
Tags: , , , , ,

This semester I have been learning a lot about gamification in education and the pros and cons of using gaming in the classroom. Just to be clear…though I’ve played a few games in my time (as a kid and more recently with my young sons), I do not consider myself a gamer! Assuredly, my views in this post will amplify my ‘beginner’ lens for those of you who have occupied the gamer space for some time!

As a teacher, I’m interested in harnessing my students’ interest by tapping into their love of video games but admit I’m a bit of a skeptic. They get enough screen time already…do they really need more? I’ve seen and tempered enough ‘too-much-video-game’ storms from my own kids to believe the negative hype that’s out there. But is it just hype? (It sounds a little like the ‘Tv will rot your brain’ sentiments that prevailed when I was a kid!)

After watching some of Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talks and reading some of Marc Presley’s work, I retracted some of my reservations in my post Turns out Gaming is Good for You.


In Phillip Kollar’s article, Jane McGonigal on the good and bad of video game escapism in March 2013,

McGonigal cited studies showing that violent gameplay is okay, and co-op violent gameplay can be great, but competitive violent gameplay — especially against strangers — raises aggression.”

Here’s another article that presents both the positive and negative sides of the video game equation.

So, having established there’s good and bad in gaming…what about the culture that exists in the gaming world? The title of this post is purposefully provocative but after I wrote it I thought, to be fair I really should have a clear understanding of what ‘gamer culture’ is rather than throw something out there based on my uninformed impressions.

After a quick search it turns out the gamer culture isn’t necessarily the stereotypical misogynistic teenage boys playing violent games on their consoles through the night…though no doubt, it can be. According to the latest ESA study, the average age of video game players is 30 and check out the break down by gender.

Gamer demographics

That surprised me until I read that the study includes all forms of games–from Wii games on a household console to online games on a mobile device. (Even my mother-in-law has a soduko app!) It’s clear that new players are entering the gaming spaces but what about the ones who are well-entrenched there?

In our last class discussion, Audrey Watters reminded me of the dark side of gaming culture, and to the online space in general, particularly for women and other marginalized groups. Much like Bonnie Stewart‘s presentation about networked identity, Audrey’s was not only a cautionary tale of what can happen when you share your opinions with the world, but also a frightening one.

Her presentation was so timely for me as I explore the possibilities of including gaming in the classroom. I am learning to play Minecraft and to use it as a tool for teaching but, as I searched out tutorials to learn how to play I got a glimpse of how the gamer culture might not be the best influence for our students. Specifically, the language used in several tutorials would not be acceptable for my young sons to be hearing. So does YouTube having content warnings? How can we encourage our students’ interests without unwittingly support inappropriate conduct online. Get online parents and teachers! You need to know what’s out there.

And that was just minecraft tutorials…what about the other games and spaces where gamers interact online? I have no idea really…except that my husband occasionally plays Medal of Honor and I have a 12 year old nephew who’s apparently hooked on Call of Duty. In a digital world designed and controlled by men, what about the women who are not only participating in these spaces but also raising their voices against the mainstream. I don’t mean to paint all gamers with the same brush but given the recent events in the gaming world (ie. Gamergate ) one can’t be too careful.

But the gaming world isn’t the only online space where behaviour can be invasive, threatening and abusive. Our class was stunned into silence by the sheer number of names Audrey Watters listed off the top of her head of who she knew who had experienced online abuse. Here are a few more examples off the top of my head:

– Ann Rice explores both positive and negative experiences online in her latest interview with CBC. Check out 7:55 (experiences on Facebook) and 12:50 (tormenting book reviewers on Amazon).

– Audrey Watters noted concerns about ethics and privacy issues with MOOCs.

– Last spring, Saskatchewan news reported on a controversy surrounding the girl from Balcares who wore a sweater reading, ‘Got Land, Thank an Indian’ that escalated to online bullying on her Facebook page.

– and the many other stories like Amanda Todd’s where online abuse moves into real world violence.

So with the online space filled with these minefields should we be encouraging gaming in the classroom? What’s the big deal? Kids love minecraft…but are we inviting real world ‘mobs’ into our classrooms as well? Do our kids get enough positive messages to compensate for the potentially negative ones they may be finding in the gaming world or other online spaces? In his article, ‘Gamers don’t have to be your audience. Gamers are over’, Leigh Alexander wrote:

When you decline to create or to curate a culture in your spaces, you’re responsible for what spawns in the vacuum.”

As teachers, we can’t turn a blind eye on who our students are and the world they are growing up in. However, it is so important to tread carefully and thoughtfully when we bring our students online. We are responsible for the culture that spawns in our spaces. We need to educate students to avoid and not perpetrate the nastiness that can lurk online and in the real world. As Julie Nilsson Smith commented in a recent #moedchat, “Many Ps give phones w/o guidance. Like giving a Ferrari w/o Driver’s Ed.” Like driver’s ed, cyber ed cannot be left to parents alone–our students’ online safety and education needs to be a joint effort.

If your class takes students into online spaces how do you protect them and what things do you do to educate them about online safety? How do you get parents on board and educate them as well? Is an online presence in classrooms worth the risk?

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your comments.

  1. jocelynskogberg says:

    I love your writing and what you have to say here. I was a little shocked at your graphic of who is playing these online games first too but then I thought of all the cell phone games and facebook games like farmville that many women I know play too. I agree it is our job to educate our students about the online world and show them that what they do online is not invisible or excusable. I love the quote about it being like giving the car to someone without a license we need to teach them how to be online before we just send them off.

  2. mybrainstorm says:

    Thanks Jocelyn! Some of those stats really surprised me too. The source looks reliable but I would investigate further to confirm if I were going to take this further. I think what’s scary is that unlike driver’s ed I don’t think parents even have a clue about the need for this education. I’m glad my kids are young enough that I can start now!
    Thanks for reading:)

  3. Tammy says:

    I am torn when it comes to gaming as well…as an anti-gamer myself (Anti-games is not an exaggeration…I don’t like games, apart from ones played in person with people across the table from me, mostly involving cards or dice and even then I’m not a huge fan. Have never liked them and don’t see that changing.) I struggle with the idea of allowing kids more screen time. Many students are already practically raised by screens…why give them more?? BUT then I watch how a kid who hates Math, for example, can flourish in it through gaming; purposefully chosen gaming! I believe that we have to be involved and aware of what is going on and be ever-present as role-models and guides if we are going to bring out students into the game world.

    How would you recommend that teachers establish/maintain a presence within any game space that they choose to introduce to their students?

  4. mybrainstorm says:

    Thanks for your comments Tammy. I too have seen kids light up playing educational games and if we can tap into that, well all the better right? Maybe to provide practise or independent learning?
    I think teachers need to be present when kids are playing or on devices in general. Proximity is key. My minecraftedu mooc talked about ways to be present in the game–as an invisible (or not) player who can check in on students to see how they’re doing. That particular game also had the option to turn off/on player chat and other capabilities like doing harm to others etc.! Not sure how it works in other software but I think some more obvious ideas would be to be really comfortable with the game yourself before adapting it to the classroom and to have very clear ideas of what your objectives are when you do. Another thing I learned in my MOOC was to establish the boundaries between gaming at school vs. gaming at home. As a teacher you need to outline how it’s going to be different in a school setting. I think games that have the admin options of assessment/activity are another great way to let them know you are involved.
    What has been your experience so far with your math games?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s