Saturday, June 25, 2011

A radical suggestion for our foundering education system

Much of our gamesmanship, as a culture, is antagonistic.  You have winners and you have losers.  As we’ve often seen, this can occasionally explode into an orgy of manic catharsis, resulting in loss of property and, not uncommonly, loss of life after high drama sporting events.

Can competition be carried too far?  Can we become too invested in “our” team that we go a little nuts when something doesn’t go according to plan?  Why do we do this?

My theory is that it’s similar to the reason people play video games.  For the feeling of accomplishment—real or fabricated—that comes with succeeding at something, or being otherwise associated with success.  Accomplishment, real or imagined, has a desirable affect on our psyche.  We like it.  It allows us to minimize the existence of imagined flaws, and pump up one’s confidence in the presence of potential romantic partners.  Real or imagined.

But what about cooperation?  Oh, we learn to cooperate in a team, but the ultimate goal is, then, to beat the other team.  More winners and losers.

Now I’d like to stress that I think all competition is bad.  It isn’t.  It’s part of what got us this far… but in tandem, as if it and cooperation two horses hitched to the same coach.  If one is stronger than the other, imbalance results.

Either way, isn’t it time we began to stress the power of cooperation at least as much as we stress competition?  The world into which we’re being dragged—often kicking and screaming, but that’s another matter—is different than the one we thought we understood.

We can’t emulate the Chinese way… not and maintain our identity as Americans.  It doesn’t suit us.  As with competition and cooperation, individualism and community must also find a balance.  RPGs can teach teamwork as well as any sport, as well as good sportsmanship and a certain amount of respect for rules.  Even though it turns some people into lawyers.  (Take my word for it--serious gamers are laughing at that).  But, in allowing the player to immerse him or her self in the character, the provides both a means of stepping out of the “real” world, yet also teaches some valuable real world skills at the same time.

For example—use of resources.  I’ve long said that they should put experienced gamers in charge of disaster relief teams.  Why?  Because one of the skills a gamer learns is how to use the resources available to him or her to their best effect.  Resources and the skills and abilities of your fellow PCs.  Which can also help a player pick up on similar things in the real world.  It teaches you to think of others as more than mere extensions of oneself.  Sounds strange, doesn’t it?  But in a completely make-believe scenario, you have to be able to consider the skills and talents of everyone in the party and how they might be put to the best use.

That’s the kind of gamer I am, and the kind of gaming I’d stress.

“But what about physical exercise? some might ask.  Funny you should mention that, because I myself came up with a way to drag pasty-faced D&Ders into the light of day.  They did not burst into flames, much to my surprise.

Simple enough.  I told them that the next game we played were going to feature ourselves as characters—as if we were pulled into a fantasy realm.  Then I devised training regimens to add levels to our starting position.  Everyone got some sun that Summer.

I’m not saying that any one of these things would hold true in every kid you introduced to the program.  But all it might take is to pique their interest just a little bit.  And if they happen to want to add a new element to the game, make them write the rules and turn that into a project.  And, yes, spelling and grammar count.

Now this is all quite apart from my vision of video games that can be both educational AND entertaining.  Right now you have two very distinct mediums within the whole gaming industry to, I believe, the detriment of both.

The Assassin’s Creed series is a great example of how real historical detail can be injected into what is, essentially, a fantasy story.

I invite my friends and other readers to consider the possibilities.

Historical/Time Travel RPGs

Near Future Science RPGs

Literature-based RPGs

Civics/Current Events RPGs

And consider that an RPG is an excellent way to teach the following skills in a holistic way.







Creative Writing

Record keeping

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