Video Games and Literacy
posted by Amy

Badger led me back to a topic we've been mulling over in our house for a while now: what exactly IS wrong with video games? Having just read James Paul Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy for work-related reasons, I've been having to rethink my bias against video games.

I should have known this was coming; after all, I was firmly against kids watching TV until I actually HAD children myself and fell in love with Steve from Blue's Clues and the amazing, independent, and smart Dora the Explorer. The shows required kids to jump and yell out answers and think, and they also gave me a chance to do something really fun, like unload the dishwasher, in peace.

Now, with a ten-year-old in the house, we've graduated to Nickelodeon proper and Cartoon Network, and I've gotta say that I find Teen Titans a welcome relief after eight years of Nick Jr. and PBS Kids programs. (Did you know that Puffy Amiyumi sing the Teen Titans theme song? Scary that I know that, isn't it?) Josie wants to be Raven, the Goth-girl superhero, and I'm a little envious that Raven is a choice for this generation. I find myself sitting down and watching with them, not because I'm such a good parent that I monitor every bit of media exposure they have, but because I'm cracking up at some joke that just got made.

So video games are obviously the next frontier. Right now computer games are what we've got in our house (Syberia is the current obsession for four out of five members of the family). We all have blogs; Josie uses her for stories, which she dictates to me, and Vincent mostly for posting jokes and pictures, while Henry is doing some of his first writing just for the sake of writing in his life. I'm obviously well aware of the good that technology can bring into our lives. Reading Gee's book and now Badger's post made me realize how much my bias against video games stems from fearing the disapproval of others--other parents, the kids' teachers, the larger culture--not my own beliefs.

I get why we're afraid of new things, especially parents. New and unfamiliar = scary. But the thing is, my kids are growing up in a different world than the one I came of age in. They live in a house full of books, and we ALL read a lot, so I can't pretend I'm afraid of video games winning out over books. No, my feelings about video games are about the same as my feelings about Little League: it's not interesting to me, so it shouldn't be to them. And that's just dumb. And kinda mean. AND I'm getting tired of the kids hogging the computers. Sigh. So what kind of game system should I buy?

Edited to add: More on why teachers need to know about technology so they can teach students to critically evaluate it at See Jane Compute. Since parents are teachers of a sort, this seems applicable to us as well.