RE: [Discuss-sudbury-model] What about TV and Computer Games?

From: Joe Jackson <shoeless_at_jazztbone.com>
Date: Sat Mar 1 10:56:00 2003

Heidi,

There are lots of computer games and video games going on, pretty much
all the time, at Fairhaven. Movies happen every now and then, as well.

The only real constraints on these, as with any activity, are related to
the availability of resources like the particular computer or
television, and whether the room is reserved for something else.

If a parent has a "hot-button" with regard to an agenda for their
children in our school, this is usually it. I find it unfortunate.

I personally think that video games are very good for children, and I
have never understood why so many parents think that playing video games
doesn't offer the same or more challenge and mental stumulation that
playing chess or reading books does.

I think perhaps it is because 1) children like them so much that it
appears to adults that it must be addictive and therefore bad for them,
and 2) because most adults are unfamiliar with them.

On one hand, the fact that children like them so much is because they
offer such a variety of mental challenge and stimulation you simply
don't see in any other activity, with very little risk. In the physical
world, in order to encounter the variety and level of challenge found in
many video games, you have to subject yourself to enourmous personal
risk and danger.

On the challenges and rewards of gaming, I quote an interview of Dr.
David Deutsch by Sarah Fitz-Claridge:

**********************************
Let's compare video games with other great educational things in the
world. Books and television have great complexity and diversity - they
give you access to almost every aspect of human culture and knowledge -
but they are not interactive. On the other hand, something like playing
the piano is also complex, and interactive, but it requires an enormous
initial investment (months or years of practice or training) with the
associated huge risk of misplacing that investment. One cannot make many
such investments in one's life. I should say, of course, that the most
educational thing in the world is conversation. That does have the
property that it is complex, interactive, and ought to have a low cost,
although often between children and adults it has a high cost and high
risk for the children, but it should not and need not.

Apart from conversation, all the complex interactive things require a
huge initial investment, except video games, and I think video games are
a breakthrough in human culture for that reason. They are not some
transient, fringe aspect of culture; they are destined to be an
important means of human learning for the rest of history, because of
this interactive element. Why is being interactive so important? Because
interacting with a complex entity is what life and thinking and
creativity and art and science are all about.

In The Face magazine (December 1992, page 46), Dr Margaret Shotton,
author of Computer Addiction?, is quoted as saying, "Apart from
increasing your manual dexterity and hand to eye coordination, video
games speed up your neural pathways." This, the writer says, allows
knowledge to travel around quicker, thus speeding up judgements and
decisions, possibly leading to a higher IQ. Margaret Shotton, like David
Deutsch, believes that parents who disapprove of their children playing
computer games are mistaken, but David Deutsch is sceptical about the
neural pathways theory. Perhaps surprisingly, he doubts that computer
games improve hand-eye coordination.

David Deutsch: Life improves one's hand-eye coordination. One spends
one's whole life picking things up and doing fine finger movements,
which one does in video games as well, but video games, if they are well
designed, tend to use skills which people already have. If they go too
far beyond what people already have, they tend to be less attractive as
video games. They are then more like playing the piano, which requires a
new kind of physical skill. Video games do not really impart a new kind
of physical skill; what they impart is the fundamental mental skill, of
understanding a complex and autonomous world.

Sarah Fitz-Claridge : Many parents would agree that conversation is very
valuable, and it is because their children spend so many hours playing
computer games instead of conversing, that they worry.

D: I do not accept that children play video games instead of
conversation. They love both, and there is plenty of time in a day for
many hours of video games and many hours of conversation - especially
since, in my experience, it is perfectly possible to play video games
and talk at the same time. Most parents do not talk enough to their
children. If they want to talk to their children, let them do so. If the
conversation is interesting enough, the children will talk. They will
either talk during the video game or, if it is very interesting, they
may postpone the video game. Forcing them to give up the video game in
order to talk will make the resulting conversation worthless.

S: Could the number of hours children spend playing computer games be
harmful?

D: Let me answer that question in two ways. First, how do you know what
the appropriate number of hours is? Nobody can know that. If your
children were playing chess for several hours a day, you would boast
about what geniuses they are. There is no intrinsic difference between
chess and a video game, or indeed, even between things like playing the
piano and playing video games, except that playing the piano has this
enormous initial cost. They are similar kinds of activity. One of them
is culturally sanctioned and the other is still culturally stigmatised,
but for no good reason. I spent a lot of time playing with Lego when I
was a child. For some reason, it never occurred to my parents that
because I spent hours and hours with Lego, this was bad for me. If it
had occurred to them, they could have done a lot of harm. I know now,
for myself, that the thing which makes me play video games today is
identical to the thing which made me play with Lego then - which is, by
the way, the very same thing that makes me do science - that is, the
impulse to understand things.
**********************************

Additionally, our observation at Fairhaven (which is echoed at almost
all other Sudbury schools) is that video game playing is an intensely
social activity in which medium and large groups of children (usually
boys 6-14 years old) noisily play with much constant comment.

And finally, researchers have been trying to establish links with gaming
and aggression, most notably recently, for years. Having played them
extensively, I am certain that such a short-term link exists, that when
you play a violent game you feel a localized heightened aggression.
Just as I do after seeing a movie like Raging Bull, reading a book like
Sea Wolf, watching a stage production of Romeo and Juliet.

For centuries we humans have realized that a fantasy world that includes
pretend violence and role-playing is a healthy release of our
instinctive aggression. For the life of me, I don't understand why the
human race would suddenly start listening to a bunch of 21-year-old
students at the University of Iowa doing research on the internet and
saying that the link exists but inexplicably concluding that IT TURNS
PEOPLE INTO STONE COLD KILLERS.

While I believe the localized effect is there, the attempt to
longitudinally prove that video games create violent people is such BAD
science in terms of attaching their prejudices to a set of numbers,
well, OK, I'm done. It's Saturday. Relax, Joe.

Sorry to rant on, but this is an issue very near and dear to my heart.

-Joe
Received on Sat Mar 01 2003 - 10:55:35 EST

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