Many, many Christmases ago, my brother and I unwrapped the last gift from under the tree, and as we peeled away the red and green paper, a strange name appeared. Atari. We (my father, mostly) connected wires, from the machine to the television, from the hand-held controllers with spinning knobs to the Atari machine. The TV was turned to channel 3, and suddenly the TV wasn’t a TV anymore. It was some sort of onscreen tennis court. Pong. One of the earliest video games developed in which a dot on the screen was the ball, and two lines on opposite ends of the “court” were the rackets (or paddles if you’re thinking “ping-pong”), which would “hit” the ball back and forth until someone missed. It was our first video game, being played on one of the first video game consoles. I remember overhearing my father tell my mother it could also help improve our “eye-hand coordination.”
Video games would evolve and move into the arcade where kids perfected strategies against Space Invaders and Pacman, Asteroids and Centipede, Pole Position and the one that ate up most of my allowance, Defender. The games would eventually move back into the home where, last Christmas, my kids opened the last gift under the tree and peeled away the wrapping on a Play Station. These days I can’t even keep up visually with what’s happening on the screen, let alone cognitively. But I do know that video games these days are running extremely complex scenarios that challenge the players to strategize on multiple levels, simultaneously.
Why write about this on the MSW Management website, you ask? I’ll answer that question with another question: Could today’s video games help kids develop the skills necessary to understand, address, and find solutions to global sustainability problems? That’s quite a bit more than improving “eye-hand coordination.”
Researchers Dr. Shawna Kelly, New Media Communications, Oregon State University, and Dr. Bonnie Nardi, Department of Informatics, University of California–Irvine, authored a paper titled, “Playing With Sustainability: Using Video Games to Simulate Futures of Scarcity.” It was posted on the website, “First Monday—Peer Reviewed Journal on the Internet.” The abstract for the paper is as follows:
“Many popular video games sustain compelling storylines that narrativize scarce resources, promote competitive and collaborative social interaction, and foreground survival goals—all necessary skills for making sense of a changed and changing global environment. In this article, we analyze representative commercial video games in four categories: civilization simulations, post–apocalypse first–person shooters, multiplayer survivor horror games, and historical recreations. We examine the ways their game mechanics and game scenarios represent social, economic and environmental interdependencies. We contrast these representations with future scenarios of gradually increasing scarcity of resources, climate change, and other human–environment interactions which can be influenced by transitioning to sustainable practices. Because good game mechanics can cultivate imaginative visions of situational potentials and solutions to problems, a key objective of the paper is to suggest game mechanics and scenarios that simulate and model sustainable practices. This agenda includes shifting away from growth as a game goal; strategizing with depletable resources; emphasizing scavenging versus combat for resource acquisition; and, developing more complex avenues for social interaction and collaboration among players. Incorporating more sustainability science concepts into commercial video games can offer a public outlet for exploring the complex interdependencies of a changing world.”
Sustainable practices. As we are hopefully heading into an era in which strategies for the production of materials includes a plan to return those materials back to their original or natural state, and consider that as an essential part of the entire recycling wheel, the world is going to need people with the ability to come up with those strategies. They will have to create solutions with the kinds of limited resources the likes of which we’re only beginning to imagine. And hopefully their solutions will satisfy both current and future needs.
So if your child, or the child of someone you know, is somewhat obsessed with video games such as Minecraft or Civilization V or Resident Evil, or even Call of Duty…please “don’t hate the player” or even the game. We’ll probably need their help.
Dr. Kelly and Dr. Nardi’s entire paper can be found here. http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/5259/3877