AW: [Discuss-sudbury-model] Fairhaven, "R" rating

From: Henning Graner <>
Date: Fri May 14 06:41:00 2004


before addressing the issue of video games let me briefly introduce myself:

My name is Henning Graner and I'm involved in a start-up group in Berlin,
Germany. Last summer I attended the International Democratic Education
Conference (IDEC) in Albany and I did some videointerviews with different
people who are in some way involved in Democratic Education. Since we are
going to set up a Sudbury-modeled school I mainly focused on students,
parents, staff members and founders of Sudbury schools. (I also interviewed
two staff members from Fairhaven: Gayle Friedman and Romey Pittman, the
latter one being one of the founders of Fairhaven).

One day I videotaped a discussion with Mikel Matisoo about video games.
Mikel Matisoo is a staff member at Sudbury Valley. Here is a transcription
of the discussion:

 We’ll have some kids that’ll play for, that’ll spend a lot, maybe 3 years
playing a lot of video games. For awhile in the beginning - because we didn’
t always have video games because there weren’t always video games – and so,
they were a new innovation for awhile. And there was a lot of discussion in
the school meeting about you know, how this activity could be done in a way
that didn’t negatively impact other people and that the people who are
interested in doing it had to make a case for the fact that this could be
done without negatively impacting other people.

 We have a video game corporation, you know, that has a space and they made
these rules for how people can bring in a video game system and where they
can put it and how you know the turns are regulated on it. Every so often it
gets shut down because of some kind of, mostly because there’re not keeping
it clean - because the corporation has a policy of having to make sure the
area is kept clean and if it’s not the school meeting might shut them down.
And then the corporation has to meet and discuss the problem and figure out
ways of solving it. There was a problem for a little while of things being
stolen from up there and they talked about it a lot and they came up with a
system of recording serial numbers and labeling things and all this other
stuff so that it was less easy to just steal things.

 You do not limit time, you do not limit violence, you do not limit

 None of that stuff.

 You have no boundaries set?

 No. Well the boundaries set are that ... First of all it’s in this room;
second of all your behavior has to be reasonable – if you say “I broke the
chair or I hit this guy because I was playing a violent video game” – it’s
like: No, you’re responsible. If you can’t play violent video games without
going crazy, then that’s not an excuse.

 One of the things that’s notable about the video game playing is that in
general they play in groups. There’s a couple people playing and a bunch of
people watching. In general these are people who are not very comfortable
with their social skills. And together they can work on very rudimentary
social interaction in an environment that is not threatening, and what
happens is they play and they talk about video games, and they expand from
talking about video games to talking about other things. And they have to
come down to the main building usually during the day because you’re not
allowed to eat food in the barn where the video games area is and so they
come down. There are other kids that are not nearly so intensely involved in
video games that come in sometimes, and so they’re a kind of bridge between
the rest of the community and kids in the video games stall. And over time
they learn to interact.

 Obviously the heart of the video game culture is probably 10 year old boys.
And by the time they get to be 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 they develop a major new
interest which is girls. And they start talking about girls among each other
and you see them starting to spend a little bit more time down in the main
building and you see them starting to pay a little bit more attention to
their personal hygiene, and they start taking showers and washing their hair
and all these other things, and then they spend more time in the building
and they get involved in other conversations that are going on. And then
later on when they’re all growing up and they are writing their thesis to
graduate they talk about how they were terribly shy and their only refuge
was to go up to the video games stall and play video games and they write
about this whole process.

 Addiction is a very fundamental human problem. It’s possible to become
addicted to all kinds of different things that we don’t normally consider
addictions but ... to deal with that question over something like a video
game, it’s actually less harmful than many other things that you could
become addicted to later on.

 They talk about it all the time. Theses kids are video games experts. That’
s the thing about it.

 Do they reflect upon the fact that they are playing a game? They train,
they talk about it, they become experts.

 They do, because they hear it all the time. They’re always hearing from
relatives, from their parents and everything else: “Video games are bad for
you”, and they sit there and they’re going “what do you think, are video
games really bad for us?” - “I don’t know. So and so, look at him, he’s a

 And a good video game is actually an amazing intellectual training device.
I mean, you wouldn’t think that people who sat down and solved logical and
mathematical puzzles were frying their brain. But in fact well designed
video games which are the kind which tend to be very popular, often are ...


 That’s right.

 Video games are very frightening to parents now because very few parents
have a lot of experience playing video games. One thing I use with people in
the U.S. all the time is ... that: “Would you be really upset if your child
was obsessed with baseball?” And they think to themselves: “No, it’s not so
bad. I was pretty obsessed with baseball, when ...” It’s like ... And yes,
there are differences. Maybe if you’re obsessed with baseball you’re out
playing and running around. But other kids obsessed with baseball that watch
it, and they go over the statistics and that study all these other things
and they’re not really all that athletic.

 ... for model building or whatever ...

 That’s right. Is that so terrible? And they would think about it and they
would go: “I spend a lot of time doing that, but that was only for a period
in my life and then I got out of it. Not only do I feel that it didn’t harm
me but I also learned certain valuable things from it.”

Recorded in July at the IDEC 2003 in Troy/Albany, NY, USA
Release on DVD coming soon!
Received on Fri May 14 2004 - 06:40:10 EDT

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