There has been a thread on the web lately (e.g Richard Bartle on Terranova) asking "Is there a contradiction in saying 'Games do teach positive things but they don't teach violence?'"
Here is my answer, from my upcoming book, Don't Bother me, Mom -- I'm Learning.
The answer, I think, to Richard’s “contradiction” is context.
Of course exposure to media, including games, influences people, and it is no surprise that studies isolating certain influences show that they are there (at least temporarily.)
The key point though, is that in order to seriously affect our ongoing, everyday behavior, media effects (and any effects) have to be both strong and unmitigated.
Of course, if someone heard nothing but English with a particular accent all his or her life, or heard nothing but country music all his or her life, or read nothing but romance novels all his or her life, or saw nothing but “Gone With The Wind “every day of his or her life, we could – and should – expect his or her behavior to be influenced. We could reasonably expect them to talk with that accent, prefer country music, have romantic expectations, and act like Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler. And, by the same token, if someone did nothing but watch violent movies all day every day, or did nothing but play violent games all day, or saw nothing but daily violence in the situation where they lived, one could reasonably expect their behavior to be violent. We do model what we see…
…UNLESS, of course, there are counterbalancing influences.
And that is precisely our job, as parents, teachers and society: to provide those counterbalancing influences. Our kids, like the rest of us, are surrounded by a huge variety of impressions and messages. They come from the media we see, but also from our families, our friends, our schools, our jobs, our reading, our clubs and sports, our religion. Some messages are violent, to be sure, but a great many more are not. Kids receive social messages, parental messages, religious messages, and even some media messages telling them daily that violence is NOT the way to go or to solve problems. So when images or experiences come into their lives that are violent, perhaps in some of their games, they take them in (how could they not), but they balance them against all the other messages they receive in life.
This is the reason why kids can learn in a game that aiming at the head is important (societal reinforcement –if you’re going to do something do it well; aiming true is good), while NOT learning that killing is OK (societal counter-messages: Thou Shalt Not Kill, murder is a capital crime, etc..)
Most kids will tell you that they know the violence in games (and movies for that matter) isn’t something one should do in real life. “Duh,” would be the reaction of most of them.
Of course in a wartime atmosphere, kids may be hearing some different messages (e.g. Us killing them is OK, them killing us is not). These are potentially confusing messages which kids then have to square not only with their games but with their views on life.
On the other hand, when games teach messages we do want kids to learn, we need to pay attention and ensure that those messages get positively reinforced as much as possible.
(note: I will try leaving comments open on this -- go away, spammers!)
This is my favorite time of year - it's light when I get up at 6 and stays light till 9:30. Sky turned six weeks old yesterday. He loves to take in the world and exercise his muscles. He seems to recognize his papa, because he typically stops crying the second I pick him up. But I'm still waiting for his first real smile...
As promised, "What can you learn from a cell phone - Almost Anything" is now up on Innovate! I encourage all developers of educational games and other software to consider developing for the platform the kids prefer -- i.e. the cell phone -- as opposed to what we may prefer or know how to work with. Note the conclusion of the researcher in the article - kid's stick with it longer!
Although I've got half a dozen new articles in the pipeline, I'm devoting the rest of this month (other than speaking engagements at the Games, Learning and Society conference in Madison and at NECC in Philadelphia) to the final draft of my new book "Don't Bother Me, Mom, I'm Learning: The POSITIVE guide for Parents Concerned About Their Computer and Video Game Playing." It will be out in the fall, just in time to make a lovely Christmas gift for parents!
Any reader interested in being an advance reader/commentator, please write me. No guarantees, in case I'm overwhelmed, but I'll do what I can. At this point I'd be especially interested in receiving quotes from kids about what they've learned from a particular game, and quotes from parents about what they've seen their kids learning.
(Note: Sadly, despite measures taken, we are being spammed again, so I am turning off the comments.)