The Phoenix Art Museum (PAM) is featuring an exhibition all about video games. This is one of my favorite places to visit and it is an amazing tool and resource that promotes both art and education. Once I heard there was a video game exhibition coming to town I began reflecting on whether or not video games should play a role in the world of education. Video games clearly provide an outlet for art and fantasy, and after reflecting a bit, I realized I definitely needed to write about my feelings towards video games. Both from the perspective of an artist, educator, and fan… or should I say, ‘Superfan!’
As a teacher I’ve been approached about video games by everyone, from other teachers to students and parents. A common complaint from teachers and parents is: “Our kids play too many video games!” This makes kids defensive but I understand how the kids feel. They want to ditch school to stay home and play video games all day. As entertaining as video games are, they also played a huge role in me developing a passion for art. The question is – are games responsible, at all, for my education?
The truth is, some video games are violent and some are inappropriate, but this also relates to a common misconception that anything that plugs into a PlayStation is intended for someone 12 and under. This is most certainly not the case. I might also add that many of these inappropriate games were of no interest to me.
I played a little Mario Bros in the 90’s just like every other kid. By the time I hit middle school I was conquering whole worlds, saving planets, and obsessing over RPGs. I had demanding parents who said I should put away those games and actually read a book; I was “rotting” my brain. However, if they would have stayed with me for an hour, they would have watched me read for at least a third of that time. They would have seen me problem solve and brainstorm. In RPGs like ‘Final Fantasy’ you are required to follow detailed directions (even take notes at times) and apply prior knowledge from the game and from life.
In games like this you grow to be compassionate for the characters, villages, societies and cultures. In final fantasy you watch how a monarchy and a democracy play a role in different towns and distant places. You have to know how to balance a budget and some games even ask you to run an entire community. Then there is the fiction! The amount of fantasy and creative art is just erupting from every corner. From subtle quirky characters, to elaborate landscapes and purple sunsets.
I have been an educator for 3 years. I have worked in several different public schools and listened as teachers and parents continue to blame video games for destroying our childrens’ minds and diminishing their ability to learn, which clearly isn’t the case. At the same time, I hear these parents mention how violent and inappropriate these games are for our kids. I want to say to these colleagues, and parents that the next time they watch their 9 year old play ‘Modern Warfare’ or ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ try not to decide at that point that video games are to blame. Be advised that there is a sticker on that game that says, “Intended for Mature Audiences!” I certainly don’t want my second grader playing a game like ‘Grand Theft Auto.’ You can apply the same advisory when reading books to children. Believe me, I think books are amazing for kids, but when I was teaching kindergarten I never invited my students to the rug for story time so I could read them excerpts from Fifty Shades of Grey.
As a child I hated school. I got all Fs since elementary school and I was labeled as a big fat failure! I would skip class and I would daydream about my fantasy world. I couldn’t wait to get back there. A world that I never shared with anyone else because they just couldn’t see it as the positive thing it was. I hyper focused on those games. I have an obsession with story telling, fantasy, art, drawing, and imagination. I want to surround myself with fantasy and creativity. I may have failed a few math tests when I was in school, but did I rot my brain playing video games instead of studying? The answer is no. They gave me the education that public school didn’t. It made me the artist, teacher, and compassionate family man I am today.