Good learning involves time travel

For a while now, people have been re-working commercial games to access the educational market. There is a blurring of the lines between educational games and commercial games which now represent themselves a educationally altered complaint beneficial safe. It appears through the media at least, successful commercial video games, popular in society are making new inroads into the classroom. The implication is one of schools softening their protests in light of the work of scholars such as Gee, Jenkins and Juul. Now almost everyone in our (Australian) society plays games, the rhetoric of new media has moved from ‘games are bad’ to ‘screen time is bad’ in light of games advertising providing them with much needed revenue and failing to the attain much in the way of moral-panic in their dwindling audience.

However it may appear to the observer, games in school and out of it remain as different as oil and water, despite the outwardly observable aesthetic and ludic similarity. For example, Minecraft in school is fundamentally being rendered in opposition to how it is used out of school. This isn’t a lack of teacher skill or ignorance, it’s because these spaces are incompatible. The fact children like it (or recognise it), therefore we should use it, was never successful argument for watching commercial TV in classrooms in the 1970s, nor for allowing classrooms to have a bank of arcade machines to learn by playing Joust, Defender. Games have emerged as a new cultural literacy from domains other than school. The fact Minecraft is a sandbox game does not somehow emancipate it (or learning).

Schools didn’t see any value in classic adventure games then, and they don’t now. You won’t see them buying Child of Light, Brothers or Dark Bounty. They don’t buy consoles, they buy iPads and drool over Google’s next effort to recruit them.

Schools are an essential part of the patriarchy. We know this, it’s a reality we have to accept. Schools have a place in society (as it stands) and so far a patchy history of using any technology in a way which demonstrates better ‘outputs’ for students. RIP the Digital Education Revolution, it was dead before it hit the beach. They are strongly structuralist in nature and subscribe to allopoietic processes and social systems of input and output. They might allow Minecraft in, but it still appears threatening. There of exceptions — as there always have and will be — but the idea of kids playing either a temporal game or persistent game (which can be accessed and used beyond the campus) will only be realised in exceptional circumstances, and I’ll argue with exceptional teachers.

These teachers (and schools) might be part of the patriarchy in terms of civic position. However, they are likely to have sufficient will inside the school culture to attempt post-structuralist approaches to schooling. Therefore, when you see Minecraft used exceptionally well, it will appear within a school which values autopoietic processes and social systems.

This is important, because at home, kids are engaged in games which are geared towards post-structuralism and yet by their nature, governed by rules and values created by the developer. The developer didn’t make the game in a vacuum, and clearly we can see numerous tropes in games which point to other literature — often that which rails against structuralism and liberal politics. Games such as Skyrim, Assassins Creed and Time Machine,  all involve some aspect of alternative futures. It’s a theme which has been reproduced for decades in game-cultures.

Porting-commercial games into what is a structuralist regime which sees technology (of all kinds) as another way to create market reform, sell product and self-promote individual status … but there’s no evidence to show that these things are done in a way which prevents cognitive dissonance and confusion in the children being forced to play inside the patriarchy and output things which adults see as ‘valuable learning’. What is needed here is better approach to using media across schools — which seems highly unlikely while ever the commodisation of childhood is something that can be sold to schools as ‘learning’.

There are many good reasons to employ games in the education of young people. There’s no reason to think schools are the place to do it currently, or that what kids are doing at home is the opposite of ‘good learning’. I think they can use games to great effect, once they learn to align themselves with things kids actually value.