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Video game subjects

Oct. 29, 2007

Henry Jenkins has recently interviewed (interview part 1 and interview part 2) David Hutchison, associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Brock University, Ontario, Canada. The interview's topic is the relation between school, games, and teaching, and Hutchison discusses discussing some of the ideas presented in his latest book, Video Games in the Classroom.
The literature on video games and school is now quite broad, but usually the debate is primarily concerned with teaching methods. The central issues in this debate are questions such as 'Can interactive media offer an educational model different from that of book-based education?', or 'What is the role of the teacher in a media-dominated pupil's life?' - and the outcome of this debate is often focused on endorsing hybrid genres and interactive formats such as interactive edutainment.
Hutchison, however, puts forward a different point of view, in which video games are not teaching methods, but rather subjects: "My book is more focused on traditional teaching and learning techniques in which the video game is studied as a cultural artifact, rather than 'lived through' as an embodied pedagogical experience. Activities which ask students to write a video game review or analyze the leaderboard statistics for a driving game in math class, for example, are fairly approachable by most teachers. They essentially treat the video game as a manipulative that can be utilized as a pedagogical tool by teachers in a wide variety of subject areas."
Hutchison's approach entails two distinct and equally important points.
First, video games and interactive media are a very relevant contemporary cultural form, and they ought to be studied in school. As trivial a statement as it might seem, a clear affirmation of video games' cultural status is welcome news nonetheless.
The second point relates on how the problem of presenting video game culture in schools should be tackled. Hutchison suggests that games can be explored 'from the outside'. Students take on the role of video game critics, and in some cases video game designers, to actively analyse these cultural artifacts. Instead of merely playing games or being taught the history of 8-bit classics, students are stimulated to reflect on games and to approach them critically and creatively. The interesting outcome of this model is that video game culture is embraced by school in a dynamic way, and school time does not clash with free time; for instance, evening's playing sessions are material for next day exercises and analysis at school. The history of the games is well recorded in a variety of books, but what is now crucial to pass on to students is video game culture, that is, the tools to analyse and understand their game-playing activities. This approach would certainly train a more analytically-minded generation of game designers and, on the larger scale, it would promote a much healthier and responsive video game audience. Game developers will have to rethink some of the current development strategies and design methods, though, because such an audience will not be easily pleased.