Digital Games and Kids

The “Wikipedia problem” which means children turning to internet for readymade answers is the new age phenomenon baffling teachers and mentors globally. There are almost equal numbers of teachers who consider technology to be a solution as much as a problem. While a common belief is that technology is hindering the students’ capacity to think and analyze, there is also a strong opinion in favor of video games and digital gadgets’ ability to engage students and enhance learning by using more than one sensory stimulators. In spite of the growing concern about the students’ deteriorating attention spans, institutions are incorporating them in the process of classroom learning.

Children are inherently inquisitive creatures. They have a curiosity to discover new things and learn by way of discovering and experimenting even before they are subjected to methods of formal education such as reading or writing. Science is a discipline of experiments and discoveries. The National Science Education Standards emphasize that “science education needs to give students three kinds of scientific skills and understandings. Students need to learn the principles and concepts of science, acquire the reasoning and procedural skills of scientists, and understand the nature of science as a particular form of human endeavor. Students therefore need to be able to devise and carry out investigations that test their ideas, and they need to understand why such investigations are uniquely powerful. Studies show that students are much more likely to understand and retain the concepts that they have learned this way “. Hence, it becomes imperative to engage children in science education at an early stage.

Digital games are more capable to gain students’ interests and attention than other conventional means of imparting education in a classroom. However, some educationists also regard them as culprits of exponential decline in the attention span in children. The next sections in this article discuss the involvement of children in games in the tech age, types of games available in the market and the impact of digital gaming as learning aids in classrooms.

Gaming and the New Age Kids

Digital technology has expanded the horizons of video gaming in the modern world. Kids are subjected to far more complex and challenging technological environment than their counterparts were from over half a century back. Involvement of kids in digital gaming is a result of many significant changes in the lifestyle and culture of the modern society. Easy accessibility of technology, dispensable income due to dual income families and lack of infrastructure for outdoor activities in many cities are some major contributors in making screen games an important part of the children’s’ lives. A study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010) found that only 20 percent of the census blocks are within half a mile of a block boundary. Also, the effect of peer pressure cannot be undermined in these times of social networking.

The digital gaming market is one of the fastest growing segments of the global entertainment industry. US is witnessing unprecedented penetration of digital games amongst youngsters. In the US, 97% of the teens play some type of game on a regular basis. In India, the gaming market has grown manifold in the last few years. Hence, it is imperative that educationists are continuously contemplating the use of digital gaming as a learning tool in classrooms. Institutions are also employing innovative ways to leverage the digital advantage for enhancing the learning experience at schools.

What are Digital Games?

There is no concrete definition of games as it may vary with an individual’s preference and profession. Games can be defined as a “system in which players engage in artificial conflict, defined by rules, which result in a quantifiable outcome”. Technology and digitization add new dimensions to games where simulations, interactivity, augmented reality, alternative reality, collective intelligence and sensory stimulators such as sound and visual effects. Digital games are also characterized by their portability and limitless accessibility.

Role-playing games, simulation games and puzzles are some of the most popular digital games. In role-playing games, the player enacts the role of a particular character in a virtual world moving from one level to the other based on the outcome of the earlier level. RPGs can be single player such as the dungeons and dragons from earlier days of gaming or multi-player games such as Diablo III, Xenoblade, Final Fantasy XIII-2 or Mass Effect 3. MMORPG or the Massive Multiple Online Role-Playing Games are an extension of the RPGs where large number of players interacts in an online virtual world. Simulation games create realistic situations in virtual worlds. The outcome will depend on the player’s decision-making and responsiveness and will be closely similar to what may happen in a real world in the same situation. Widely used in training and analysis, simulation games are also popular due to their unpredictable and personalized outcomes. Flight Simulator X, Live for Speed (LFS) and Need for Speed have been extremely popular simulation games for a long time. Puzzles genre of digital games involves problem solving and analysis with varying degrees of difficulty depending on the nature of the game. Crosswords and treasure hunt games are basic forms of puzzle games in both physical and digital form.

All types of digital games involve a social involvement of players. Some need collaborative efforts to play while others may be discussed or analyzed socially. In spite of some games being accused of outright violent visual effects, a well-designed game can accelerate the thinking process by motivating, engaging, involving creativity and developing a meta-game i.e., social interactions inspired and enhanced inside or outside the game. Incorporating digital gaming in the basic education framework can lead to augmented competitiveness and multi-dimensional growth in children.

Digital Games in Science Education – Why and Why Not?

The 21st century requires the mentors and the students to integrate technology into the curriculum. Though the ultimate goal is to benefit the students in terms of learning and experience, unsupervised, unorganized or irrelevant application can lead to complete failure or have negative effects. Some of the negative impacts of digital games in general and in context with the education are listed below:

Digital games have been facing constant rebuke for allegedly enhancing aggression amongst kids and developing a violent streak at an early stage. In a study by Anderson and Bushman (2001), Children involved in violent video games are more likely to have increased aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and decreased prosocial helping. Use of weapons and being rewarded for being violent is a cause of widespread concern.

Digital games can be addictive for children and make them physically inactive. Digital games, other than social networking, are considered for reduced physical activity leading to obesity in kids and postural and skeletal disorders.

Addiction to games is also known to make kids socially secluded. Impulsive behavior, depression and increased anxiety levels are largely attributed to excessive gaming in children. Some studies also suggest that the children playing games are unable to concentrate for a long span and have reduced attention span.

Children are prone to absorbing socially unacceptable behavior through some digital games such as using profanities and ill-treating the fairer sex. Lack of adequate knowledge about screening the material available online is a growing concern amongst the parents.

Digital games are considered a hindrance to better performance in academics. Students are often found to skip homework to play games leading to deteriorated performance at school. However, despite their reputation as promoters of violence and mayhem, digital games have in fact been shown to help children learn skills, content, and vital “21st-century” skills. From digital games children can learn: content (from rich vocabulary to science to history), skills (from literacy to math to complex problem-solving), creation of artifacts (from videos to software code) and systems thinking (how changing one element affects relationships as a whole). Strong arguments in favor of using digital games as learning aids in secondary education are summarized below:

Digital games involve extreme hand-eye coordination and enhance motor and sensory skills. Sensory stimulation theory proposed by academician Laird (1985) validates that effective learning occurs when the senses are stimulated. While some studies show that digital gaming reduces attention span, there are strong evidences of improved concentration in short intervals of time. Digital games involve keeping an eye on every detail, follow the rules and respond proactively to the given situation. Complex digital games help is developing problem-solving and decision-making skills. Some games also involve logical analysis of the situation and pattern recognition and improve memorizing thus assisting in the cognitive process. Playing by the rules teaches children to accept and respect a certain level of discipline.

Multi-player digital games develop a sense of constructive competitive attitude. Collaborative games also improve team-building attitude. They develop time management skills in a team and train the players to cooperate for mutually desired goal. They teach the players to accept defeat as well as strive for better results. Digital games provide an avenue for hyperactive kids to direct the energy in a constructive system based game. They also provide an outlet to release aggression and frustration, thus helping in diffusing stress. Some games also involve physical activity such as Nintendo Wii boxing helping kids to engage mentally and physically with the kids. Complex digital games involve high level of multitasking thus improving brain’s natural learning process. Brain based learning theory proposes that multi-tasking is an inherent activity of the brain and learning is enhanced by challenges at various levels. Digital games develop efficient situational analysis and strategy making in children. Since games have certain objectives at every level and a final objective of the game, it teaches players to devise short term and long-term strategies such as scoring points, retaining energy and reaching the ultimate goal of the game. Simulation games and the role-playing digital games help players gain expertise or learn by experiencing in replicas of real world situations. Experiential learning and action learning theories are based on the premise that individuals learn faster when they by experiencing and actually participating in action.