Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Video Games

The first and only comment that my daughter made to me as I read the article, “Professor Jenkins Goes to Washington” by Henry Jenkins was, “Why is it so black?” She was referring to the background that this article was written on. This display is something that I honestly did not notice. But it sealed my suspicious thoughts about Jenkins’ position on video games, and generally, his position on “popular culture.” Just like Congress, I was fooled into believing that he acknowledged the effects of video games on our youth. The title alone of his book from Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games evokes feelings of good versus evil. This tone was misleading. It led me to believe that Jenkins would take a more prosecutorial point of view on the topic of violence in video games much like the one Lloyd Garver took in his Newsweek article titled “A Veto on Video Games”. But in fact, he literally brings the very opposite to the table. He is defensive on the matter. I thought that the purpose of his testimony was to discuss the possible effects of popular media on the youth. But it didn’t. Even if his goal was to explain the devastating effects of children combining their own problems with this type of medium would have been understandable. But that is not what he did. Instead, he used this platform as an opportunity to vent on behalf of children who display all the socially unacceptable behaviors that lead to bullying and, consequently, retaliation. Congress called Jenkins to witness on the effects violent games have on children. In fact, he states in his speech to Congress that “[t]he mass media didn’t make Harris and Klebold [students who participated in retaliatory violence in Littleton, Colorado] violent and destructive… but it provided them both with the raw materials necessary to construct their fantasies.” Although this very comment suggests that violent games foster maladjusted behaviors and violent tendencies, Jenkins turns his attention to blaming everyone else for Harris’ and Klebold’s actions instead of the games. He suggests that if they were not feared or bullied and just accepted for who they are, then they would not have turned to such enabling tools that led to their violent acts. While Jenkins goes on to say that our fear and reactions to it will ultimately “…lead us down the wrong path,” he still does not own up to the fact that popular culture is leading many of our youth down the wrong path and encouraging them to stay there. After coming to the conclusion that Jenkins is comfortable with “…the very concept of giving yourself over to the ‘dark side,’” I see that there is no wonder why he chose black as his background color for his article to be written on. At the end of his speech, he urges us to “[l]isten to our children.” I agree that we should do that. But, instead of fearing them, I believe that we need to fear instead is what they listen to—and I believe that Jenkins falls somewhere in that category!
In James Paul Gee’s article, “The Classroom of Popular Culture: What video games can teach us about making students want to learn,” he talks about just that. While reading the article, I felt intimidated about the strong attraction video games have on students. I feel that we teachers cannot compete. This makes me think of the possibility that one day computers will take over the job of teaching our children. This must be the feeling that people got when new machinery came and took over jobs that factory workers once had. Still, it’s cool how video games allow children to participate in designing the game or strategies as they play. They can “…customize games to fit their learning.” This appeals to what we educators describe as multiple intelligences. It allows kids of all learning levels and styles to monitor and adjust their own learning. Another thing that appeals to the gamester is the fact that they can “…learn to view the virtual world through the eyes of a distinctive personality.” Players are also encouraged “to take risks” because “…they can start over…[which gives them] a real sense of…ownership, and control.” They learn and build concepts as they play. They build skills by learning and applying them to each sequential level of the game. These games also provide realistic experiences that foster real world skills. The only question, however, is how can we transfer this virtual world into our real classroom experiences.
In “The War between Effects and Meaning,” the author suggests that video games should not be banned. He states that video games do not teach gamers how to behave but allows each individual to gain his or her own meaning from it. Then he contradicts himself by quoting James Paul Gee and by proving examples of how video games can be used as learning tools. He practically says that hate games don’t encourage hate, but in fact “…encourage critical thinking about the roots of racism….” How crazy is that!!!!! He continues to contradict what he’s professing by quoting Kurt Squire and stating that “…game-based learning builds upon player’s existing beliefs…” So, if they believe that killing is OK, then these games will affirm their beliefs. He goes on to discuss the severity of violent games and how certain organizations and video designers are creating less violent games. While in the end of this article the author tends to admit the detriment violent games have on our youth, he begins the article by defending them. This sounds like Jenkins. Is it he???

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