Video games? Good for you?
Richard Van Eck says computer and video games are good for us. So, who is this Van Eck chap? A Nintendo executive? An Atari public relations flack? A 16-year-old who spends eight hours a day in a video-game bunker, leaving only to restock his sup...
Richard Van Eck says computer and video games are good for us.
So, who is this Van Eck chap? A Nintendo executive? An Atari public relations flack? A 16-year-old who spends eight hours a day in a video-game bunker, leaving only to restock his supply of Mountain Dew and Pop Tarts?
Whoever he is, he's bound to incur the wrath of educators who see our youth's brains turning to mush by playing computer/video games, right?
Well, no. Van Eck actually is an educator, an associate professor in the UND College of Education and Human Development's Department of Teaching and Learning. He's not just a teacher. He teaches prospective teachers how to teach.
And he recommends that they use digital game-based learning (DGBL). In other words, video/computer games can be learning tools.
Is this considered heresy in academia?
"Others approach it with a healthy dose of skepticism," he said. But they're coming around as research shows its benefits.
"You learn skills like problem-solving and critical-thinking," Van Eck said. "And gamers become bored with games once they've solved them. They like to be challenged."
Online, multiplayer games also teach communication skills. "You need to work with others, interact, process information and cooperate in setting goals, just like you'd do in an international business community."
The U.S. Army recognized the benefit, commissioning a video game to help teach leadership and communication. The manufacturer also sold it commercially as Full Spectrum Warrior.
In a class he teaches about using games as an instruction aid, Van Eck uses Roller Coaster Tycoon. In that game, players build and manage an amusement park, requiring business, engineering and math skills, among others. It's along the same line as the Sims games, where gamers build virtual cities or companies.
"A lot more commercial games have educational applications than don't," he said. The mature-rated Grand Theft Auto game "is morally reprehensible because of the messages it sends," he said. "But you could still use it to teach a criminal justice class or a sociology class to show what happens to society when law breaks down."
Van Eck recommends using games if they help learning, not as a reward or motivation. On the other hand, "there's no reason learning should be painful."
He also preaches moderation. "There should be limits on the time spent on games, just like limits on watching television or playing outside," he said.
But gaming isn't the brain cell-sucking scourge that many adults (including me) fear, he said. They even prepare people for the increasingly technological world that awaits.
"They will be prepared and productive problem-solvers," he said. "They can handle multiple channels of information in these games at one time."
That's different from adults, who print out their e-mails to read them. While teens are natives to the digital world, adults are "digital immigrants who speak in an accent," Van Eck said.
"Some people say that technology is what is invented after you're a teenager. For some people, the telephone and television are considered technology. But all of what's going on now is natural to teens. They don't even consider the cell phone or the iPod as technology."
In his lifetime, Van Eck said he wouldn't be surprised to see the International Olympic Committee consider gaming as a sport.
If so, I have a 16-year-old who will be a potential gold medalist.
Bakken reports on local news and writes a column. Reach him at 780-1125, (800) 477-6572 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org .