Why are real games missing from STEM?

The Australian video games industry, as it turns out, is both successful and ignored by the government when it comes to funding. The developers of games (the industry that makes them) reported revenue of $111million in 2015-16. In the same period, sales exceeded $3billion, with over half of that being digital only sales. The industry associations continually stand with hands aloft asking why the government is removing funding, not adding to it. While the government (and education) bang on about ‘jobs of the future’ and ‘computational thinking’ – they overlook games. In education, the education-brain is unable to evolve past Minecraft Edu, which it thinks ticks the STEM box nicely. Except it doesn’t. It is simplistic and panders to conservative sensibilities.

When we see schools engaged in eSports, when there are rows of consoles in a media-lab and high end PCs with sufficient grunt to play and render … then we can say we are rushing towards the future. We can honestly say that we are engaging kids in games.

Why do I say we are not? Shaw (2010) argues the central themes in game studies are: knowledge acquisition, identity and performance, representation, and the relationship between media and audiences. He says game studies included a “pervasive sense of video game culture as separate from a constructed mainstream culture, as something new, different, and more importantly definable” (p.404).  This is not true of schools. Thy continue to BAN games. I would argue most of the Minecraft loving schools still ban other games – or make teachers jump through hoops to get them unbanned.

So no, the fact some schools play Minecraft does not mean Australia has included video game making and playing in it’s STEM culture. What these school have done is created narrow explorations and narrow critical language – something academics said would happen. Schools do not like divergent media cultures – and yet Game Devs – professional and hobby rely on them for connectedness and shared-space.

There is, as many have said – an embedded conflict of the ‘prior’ and ‘current’ narrative. While STEM should support the multi-billion dollar game industry – which dwarfs television, radio, film and novels in both income and time, schools still defer the idea of playing eSports and funding media labs to ‘the future’ – which seems a place filled with Thought Leaders making bland statements as they watch thier follower count +1. To me, these pundits are part of the apparatus that prevents change. They sit in influential judgement when they could step away and acknowledge the need for diversity in the narrative. But I totally get that the ego-buff of being the Twitter/Teach Meet Alpha is compelling enough to represent the potential of developing professional game devs as Minecraft with the narrowness of the K12 STEM bubble.

So why are we not preparing kids for the future? Because we don’t actually want to – the games industry future is massive – and yet here we are with less funding and Minecraft (to which people say “but it’s a beginning” – when games are over 30 years old. It’s just culture which is still shit scared of games).