Video games as learning tools

After making a comment on a fellow GIDBlog site, I realized that it would make a good topic of discussion. The original comment I made was that, by playing Gran Turismo, I’ve learned quite a bit about cars that I didn’t know before. Obviously, it’s a game so a lot of real life aspects can’t be duplicated exactly, but much of the premise of the simulation is still applicable.

For example, I never realized how much tires affect the car. It makes sense though. The tires are the only part of a vehicle that actually interact with the environment, in this case the ground. Having poor quality tires means your are more likely to lose that precious ground contact. Once you lose good contact, you no longer have control of the vehicle. This means not just when your tires actually leave the ground (like when you go over a cliff) but when you lose any type of traction. If you brake too hard without anti-lock brakes, your wheels will lock up and you lose control. If you go over a “washboard” road or hit a speed bump too fast, your tires will momentarily lose contact with the ground and you just can’t drive on air very well.

Gran Turismo not only states this explicitly in the game but you can tell the difference in the quality of tires when driving. The cheap, standard tires simply don’t provide as much traction on turns or when braking. Taking this into the real world, cheap tires (generally speaking) won’t provide you with the same traction and safety as more expensive tires.

From personal experience, cheaper tires can also be “less round” than other tires. I bought a set from a “discount tire store” and noticed the car vibrated more and always seemed to be running over bumps. When I bought new tires (from a reputable company), they told me the old tires were “out of round” and so there were very slight bulges and flat spots that caused the rough ride.

Gran Turismo has also provided me with information on how the different components of cars work and how certain upgrades change performance. Again, they don’t correspond directly to real life but they give a good basis for knowing how things work if I ever wanted to “pimp my ride”. Personally, I think it’s a waste of money unless you take your car racing so I will never do it, but it’s interesting from a strictly educational aspect.

Video games can be learning tools in other ways. Back when the original Doom was big, the US Marine Corps came out with a multi-player map to help teach Marines small-unit tactics. Unfortunately, this idea has been corrupted by the anti-gun lobby and is trotted out whenever there’s a school or office shooting, typically restated as, “The killers used video games to learn how to kill and hunt people. The games turned them into killers.”

However, there has been no evidence of this (as far as I know). Typically the killers had mental problems and something set them off; the games were incidental. There is simply no way playing a video game can teach you how to use a gun effectively. Firing a real gun is just a little bit different than handling a game controller. About the most they can do is teach you to think about tactics, but there really are no tactics when it comes to taking out a school. As a final observation, how many school and office shootings are there compared to how many people play these games? It’s pretty insignificant so the correlation isn’t there.

Video games can teach other things though. My kids play Age of Empires and similar games, which can teach about resource management, diversification, cooperation, sharing, planning ahead, and even improve abstract reasoning and spatial geometry. These games are marketed as entertainment but, perhaps inadvertently, provide some skill building in areas that aren’t (or can’t be) actively taught.

Video games often get a bad rap for being mindless entertainment but that’s usually because “adults” don’t play them. However, I think this mindset will change over time as my generation gets older and has more influence on society.

We grew up with video games. Pong came out only 40 years ago and arcades had their heyday in the ’70s and ’80s, so only now is my generation settling down and thinking about the future. Quite often, we still play video games with our children, which not only increases family bonding but instills another generation with a different outlook towards games.

Video games may not have socially redeeming values currently, but that’s just an aspect of current society. There’s already a debate as to whether video games can be considered “art”. Eventually it will be a moot point, as the people making these decisions will have grown up with video games. Many of the debates about video games will simply fade away as they become just another aspect of life, like the telephone or television.

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4 Responses to Video games as learning tools

  1. J de Silva says:

    I used to believe that it was impossible for a person to be influenced by violence on TV, movies and video games. I don’t believe that anymore. There are people in this world who are easily affected and influenced by the things they do everyday.

    I like to “influence” myself by watching a lot of comedy, so I tend to laugh easily, mostly at myself.

    I think most “thinking people” like yourself will learn from just about anything, mostly subconsciously, so I am not at all alarmed that you can pick up a few things from simply playing a video game.

  2. I’m not saying they can’t be influenced, I’m saying people have to already have a mental problem to be adversely affected by games.

    People can be desensitized by repeated exposure to certain stimuli; two perfect examples are combat veterans and emergency medical technicians. Both are (usually) no longer bothered by blood and guts.

    A related example is when the Power Ranger craze occurred several years ago. Kids were beating each other up in school emulating the Power Rangers. However, these were young children (less than 12 years old) who have under-developed social norms. Put another way, they often don’t know any better (often accentuated by parents who don’t raise them properly).

    What I was trying to say in my article is that average people who are mentally healthy won’t commit murder simply because they played a violent video game. People who are mentally unhinged will do stupid things, but it’s not due to the video games, it’s due to their own problems.

    Ars Technica has posted quite a few articles about studies that don’t show a correlation between video games and physical violence. The studies that do often turn out to be flawed or the results misrepresented by the media.

    Basically, I stand by my argument that video games don’t make people kill. People kill because they either choose to or because of underlying psychological issues. The games may, possibly, play a remote factor but they aren’t the direct cause many people claim they are.

  3. J de Silva says:

    Maybe I wasn’t clear, and I was not disagreeing with you.

    What makes somebody more or less violent? Is it psychological, or maybe biological, or could even be something else?

    From another point of view, all this could be explained quite logically, but then it involves the concept of rebirth, the matter of past lifes, experiences and habits, and even entire planes of existence.

  4. Nihal says:

    Can’t say much about the 70’s (we couldn’t afford a video game back then) but from what I know now, is that my kids (7 & 5 years old) are entirely hooked on to their PS2.

    Every single day they wait for me, to join them in their game, which I’ve grown to enjoy as well. To me, it’s a family bonding time.

    And when they grow up, this would carry on, to the next generation and so forth.

    At the end of the day, it’s just another phase in life we all go through. Live it to the fullest!

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