May 18, 2011

Teaching with technology

Kids aren’t playing enough video games in classrooms, according to Professor Rachel Wagner. Her May 10 lecture “Virtually Educational: Teaching with Videogames” suggested ways for professors to infuse games with lessons.
A vast majority of the attendants were professors who wanted to find out how the games might relate to their curriculum. Teenagers already know how to play video games, but Wagner said that she wanted to give the professors the skills to take that experience to the next level.
“They know the experiences,” Wagner said. “They just don’t know what it means or how to think of it.”
Wagner divided the games into two rough categories, Paidia and Ludus, but said that games could have aspects of both. Paidia games allow gamers to explore open environments and are based around puzzle solving and environment building, like “Sim City” or “Myst.” She categorized Ludus games as action or war-based games built on an us-versus-them mentality that have set rules and only two outcomes: win or lose.
Wagner said that she preferred playing Paidia games, but her lecture focused on Ludus games, especially politically charged games like “Border Patrol” or “Ethnic Cleansing.” The names of the games pretty much say it all. In “Ethnic Cleansing,” the player chooses a Klansman or skinhead and kills Jews, immigrants and African Americans. The game description for “Border Patrol” says, “Shoot the illegal aliens trying to cross the boarder [sic]. No mercy, kill them all!”
These games can raise many questions that could be explored in class. Professors could show students the games in class and then discuss the ramifications of the game. What is the intended audience of this game? How does one feel playing this game? What was the intent of this game and in what context should the game be viewed?
She also showed games on the other end of the spectrum like “Food Force,” where players deliver food to places in crisis. Another example she gave was MTV-U’s “Darfur is Dying,” in which the player must guide his or her avatar to goals to hide from Janjaweed militias and meet goals to help a refugee camp.
Although some people say that these games are helpful because they can educate people about real-world issues, Wagner said that these games could also be viewed as hurtful since they oversimplify the difficulties faced by those who actually live the “game.”
Although Wagner teaches philosophy and religion at Ithaca College, her work in the relationship between religion and video games has led her to explore how video games can be used in classroom settings. Although her talk focused on the humanities, she believed that with a little tweaking the ideas presented could be used by any discipline.

Paige Anderson
Paige Anderson is a junior double majoring in computer science and creative writing. This is her second year as co-Mosaic editor. Outside of TKS, Paige has written for Knox’s Office of Communications and for her high school newspaper; her in-depth work won a third-place medal in the Redwood Empire Excellence in Journalism Awards competition. Paige will intern at Amazon during the summer of 2013.

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