Video games: educational, or crime-sparking? Informed & uninformed voices in the debate

As teachers look for ways to bring video games into the classroom, a law-enforcement leader says they’re making teens get stabby.

Many people look at the hours that kids spend playing video games and worry about them wasting their time. Others, such as seventh-grade teacher Joel Bonasera, look at those hours and see an opportunity to harness kids’ passion and teach them something.

Apparently Bonasera was, at first, surprised to find that a girl in her class liked killing bad guys in Call of Duty as much as the boys do. That made him realize the pervasive lure of gaming in his kids’ lives. Although he recognized he couldn’t bring a first-person shooter into the classroom, he did discover another popular game around which he could create lesson plans: Minecraft.

As the name suggests, Minecraft offers players the opportunity to build things — houses, fortresses, gardens — using 3D cubes. You also dig for minerals. For many players, it’s creative, fun, and a little bit addictive. So, Bonasera sits his students down in front of the game…

And then he builds a lesson around the game.

“While you’re doing it, just write your thoughts down over here about what you’re doing. Okay, next week let’s plan out what you’re going to do and show the mathematical reason behind that. Okay, the week after that, let’s make a full blown blueprint.”

Other teachers are finding ways to tie video games into their lessons — connecting the hero’s journey in World of Warcraft to a reading of Tolkein’s book The Hobbit, for example.

Meanwhile, in Australia, at least one law-enforcement officer believes video games are to blame for an increase in teen knife violence.

New South Wales’ Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said recently that he believes young people are being desensitized by playing video games for hours. He didn’t specify which video games — or whether knife fighting was involved in them.

He said he had reached the conclusion that there was “nothing more potentially damaging than the sort of violence they’re being exposed to, be it in movies, be it in console games they’re playing.”

“You get rewarded for killing people, raping women, stealing money from prostitutes, driving cars crashing and killing people.

“That’s not going to affect the vast majority but it’s only got to affect one or two and what have you got? You’ve got some potentially really disturbed young person out there who’s got access to weapons like knives or is good with the fist, can go out there and almost live that life now in the streets of modern Australia. That’s concerning.”

However, what concerns me is something he says toward the end of the article:

“We grab them off the streets, children 14-13, who are drunk that we come across in the city in the Cross and in Oxford St.

“We ring parents and say ‘little Johnny’s down here, you better come in and get him’. And parents don’t even care. They say ‘he got there and can get his way back’.”

So he really thinks that video-game violence is inspiring these kids more than the treatment they’re receiving from their parents? Now, I’m certain we’re both generalizing: Scipione probably doesn’t receive that response from every parent of a kid who’s drunk and fighting. Nor is every parent who responds that way necessarily nonchalant or uncaring. At some point when kids act out, parents often would rather see them face police consequences, and maybe that’s what these parents are doing. However, this comment suggests frayed relationships between kids and parents, and that’s something much more likely to spark juvenile crime than blowing off some steam in a video game. In fact, kids with access to video games would probably be less likely to stab someone.

It’s true that with video games, they’re not all good or all bad. There can be video games that make sense in the classroom, and other video games probably best suited for late nights with friends. You can’t say that just because they’re good enough for school, there’s no way a video game could inspire a bad idea. Many — probably most — video games teach people valuable skills. And, once in a while, someone plays one and winds up hurting someone in reality, whether that act was influenced by the game or not. Heck, there’s no saying Minecraft, cute as it is, couldn’t feed someone’s fury — if that someone was already in a furious place.

However, it’s worth pointing out the contrast in these perspectives, in part because Bonasera saw a way to harness kids’ love of video game and turn it into something powerful and educational. Scipione, on the other hand, saw a month-long blip in knife crime, didn’t know what could have caused it, and blamed it on gaming — without even knowing the perpetrators’ gaming habits. Whose perspective is more thoughtful and informed? Given that, which one seems more worth heeding?


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