[Edu-sig] re: Education Arcade

Kirby Urner urnerk at qwest.net
Sat Dec 13 15:26:44 EST 2003

> Learning is about demystification.  I would probably not go as far as the
> Waldorf folks and deny kids a great magic show.  But that's precisely what
> a good video game is. In some sense it is the opposite of a learning
> experience.
> And the power relationship is perverse.  The machine has the power, the
> developer has the power. The kid is a shmuck. Exactly the wrong lesson.
> This is the part that gets me worked up and I better stop before I get
> myself too worked up.

Well, this is the kind of thing I'm trying to get a feel for -- scientific
evidence is not of interest at the moment.  I just want to get where you're
coming from.

I understand you don't like black boxes which simply dazzle without
providing insights.  You don't like bread and circuses, designed to keep the
masses dumbed down, the better to be taken advantage of by those
puppet-masters with the cynical know-how.

You see bells and whistles as so much science fiction scenery designed to
create an illusion, to fool, to hoodwink on some level, and so arcade games,
for you, are the antithesis of real education.

How 'm I doing?

Where I think you might be mixing a couple of ideas is when you talk about
how video games don't provide much insight into how they actually work (are
mystifying in this regard).

But I would-be Boeing 777 pilot in a flight simulator wants to train her
reflexes to match those of the real 777.  The layout of the cockpit controls
is of interest, and the reactions of the plane.  

It's probably not of specific interest how this realism is achieved, how the
pneumatic rods supporting the faux cockpit are set to rock and roll in
accordance with simulated wind buffeting, thrust, flap position and so on.  

The point of this simulation is to teach about the 777, not about how to
build a flight simulator.

Likewise, while I think it's true that many kids have no clue as to how a
given arcade game works, the game designers may well have done a very good
job of imparting knowledge about *something completely different* -- such as
the workings of global weather patterns, the stock market, the advertising
business, or political campaigning.

Imagine an arcade game wherein you're running for president of some country.
You have money concerns, issue concerns, perception concerns.  Donor X
promises you big bucks, but not if you appear to side with Y in your
statements.  Different versions of a stump speech appear on screen.  You
have to decide which one you'll go with (advisors weigh in with pros and
cons, perhaps audibly, using emotional language).  Money sources appear or
dry up as a result of your choices.  In the meantime, your competition is
doing likewise.  Negative ads appear, about your accepting funds from Donor

How all this is implemented electronically may be something of a black box,
but the insights obtainable about the political process might be
significant.  Of course it all depends on the game designers just what
lessons might be built in.  But that's true of any simulation (including
those delivered in narrative formats, in the form of history books for

In other words, I don't think the fact that games will come with built-in
biases and world views is an issue about the games per se.  It's more an
issue about teachers and teaching in general -- we have points of view, and
that's just the way it is (and always will be, no?).


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