The Cultural Challenge of Video Games

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Giovanni Cucci, SJ

 Giovanni Cucci, SJ / Issue 1906 / 11 June 2019

Video games: help or obstacle to learning?

The topic of playing games, in both a serious and fun sense, as help or distraction, has been widely debated over time, and certainly well before the appearance of video games.[1] These games have raised these issues again but this time at a more complex and varied level. Whatever the final assessment, the most rigorous studies agree in pointing out the fascination that games present anyone who has a minimum of familiarity with them, and how they can be sources of motivation for the most diverse and challenging purposes.

For example, some have wondered why a boy or a teenager who seems incapable of concentrating in front of an epic text, a poem, a story, or unable to solve a medium or low difficulty mathematical exercise is instead able to stay in front of a computer or a tablet to face intellectually demanding tasks that often have to do with the same disciplines dealt with in class. To complete a medium level video game requires, for those who are experts, from 30 to 100 hours, together with specialist knowledge; for those who are beginners the number of hours increases exponentially.[2] Yet video games are sold in millions of copies to users of all ages, and are constantly growing.

James Gee, a linguistics teacher with a long academic record dedicated to this subject, finds this very element at the base of successful video games. He highlights in particular three aspects that can stimulate the learning process: “1) The student must be encouraged to try, even if he or she has good reason to fear the test. 2) The student should be encouraged to try it in any way, even if their initial motivation for doing so is minimal. 3) The student must achieve some significant success after having tried with all his or her strength; success without effort is not rewarding, and to struggle without obtaining at least a small result is equally unsatisfactory. They seem like very simple things. Nevertheless, they are not taken into account in much of the current debate on education.”[3]

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