It might be controversial of me to say this, but video games taught my children how to read. Yah, you heard me, VIDEO GAMES TEACH CHILDREN! You know that old saying that goes, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Well that is doubly true of media usage by children. Video games can, indeed, teach children things. I’ll even go so far as to say that video games CAN teach children that violence is acceptable, but ONLY if the parents are reinforcing that belief by either normalizing the violence in the child’s every day life OR by not parenting at all.
Which brings me back to video games teaching my children how to read. When our daughters were 4 and 2 1/2, respectively, we purchased the V-Tech V-Smile for Christmas. We wanted to give them an alternative to our PS2 and Nintendo Systems. Something that would allow them to participate in the same activities that my husband and I enjoyed, but didn’t require us to hold their hand while they were enjoying it. The V-Smile was specifically marketed as an educational console system, with a controller that was built for little hands and games that were both appealing and, well, educational. Our girls loved it, but they were desperate to play with mommy and daddy. Unfortunately for them, we had an appallingly low patience level and so if they turned on one of our games and landed on a screen with a text narrative, we’d say, “YOU CAN’T PLAY THAT UNTIL YOU CAN READ IT!” Poor neglected tots. (Granted, they also got to play City of Heroes with their Grandpa, who lived 3 states away… so that was cool.)
Except that the combination of games that introduced both phonics and sight words and parents who gave them a challenge seemed to actually do the trick. They each entered Kindergarten at a grade 1 reading level and entered 1st grade at 5th and 6th grade reading levels. Was it ACTUALLY the video games that taught them how to read? No clue, but I’m 95% that I didn’t have anything to do with it. Honest.
Which leads me to their current obsession: Minecraft. Dude. Seriously. This game is like crack for kids. I had never even heard of it until they popped in one day with their sad little eyes and begged for us to buy the full version. Bad parent that I am, I just shrugged and said they could have it for Christmas. LUCKILY, it wasn’t a terrible decision on my part. LUCKILY, it’s not like Grand Theft Auto and, therefore, a game that I find egregiously offensive (feel free to disagree with me on that one, but it’s a personal opinion and that’s all I’ve got to go on in the kid raising department). LUCKILY, Minecraft actually has some educational merit.
Now, ignore the zombies and blocky sheep, and Minecraft is, essentially, a freeform digital lego system. The ability to build both simple and complex shapes gives a basic introduction to strategic planning, problem solving, and a bit of math. That’s a decent start and well worth it on its own, but what *I* love as a parent is the fact that the WORLD of Minecraft and the utter investment my children have in creating that world is encouraging them to learn aspects of computer use and programming that most children will never be exposed to in a classroom setting. The game encourages the use of mods and, by extension, the construction of mods. So what did Jess get for her birthday last year? A java programming book. Seriously. A VIDEO GAME MADE MY DAUGHTER WANT TO LEARN HOW TO PROGRAM! This stuff is gold! Educators are now finding that Minecraft can be used in a classroom setting, to engage students in such varied topics as Science and Religious Studies (seriously, that has go to be one awesomely creative teacher as how they would approach that is beyond me). The people who grew up on Nintendos and Segas are now at the front of classroom, seeking innovative ways to engage students in an increasingly stupefying process. And that… IS AWESOME!
So next time your kid sits down at the computer and boots him/herself up some Minecraft, instead of having the gut-reaction of, “Dude, stop wasting your life.” Just remember, your kid might very well be learning something that will help him invent the next Google.