I've been meaning to blog about this topic for some time, and this Slate article has finally inspired me to put fingers to keys on the subject. The article deals with the ascendancy of educational video games, and makes the point that such games are boring, with the boringness undermining their educational value.
I haven't been able to play video games since the gaming industry added a third dimension to the on-screen action and tripled the number of buttons on the controllers, so I'm not a credible authority on whether a given game is boring or not. I do know, however, that there are certain things that should not be made into video games. Among these are global warming, congressional redistricting, and Nacho Cheesier(TM) tortilla chips. And as such, I'm tired of hearing "What will they think of next?" stories on NPR about the latest horrendously boring video game designed to make the global commodities market fun for the gaming public and teach them something along the way.
I suppose that now that the generation of children whose lives were dominated by video games growing up are out doing important things in the world, the impulse to add gaming to non-gaming-related things is understandable. It's an embodiment of the "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" phenomenon. If you want to take something boring and make it fun, how can you go wrong with video games? An additional factor is the increasing prestige of game designing as a career -- more and more institions of higher learning are now offering courses, even degree programs, in game design. And if you can get an master's degree in video games from USC, why not use your education to end world hunger one pixel at a time?
Video games have certainly come a long way in the past several decades. From a legal standpoint (my particular hammer), for example, courts have recently acknowledged that video games are expressive, and subject to certain First Amendment protections. As the Slate article points out, video games are apparently starting to surpass movies in terms of revenue and popularity. This would have been hard to imagine back in the Atari 2600 days. It's understandable, then, to imagine that this evolving artform could be useful as an educational tool. And it certainly can. But a problem arises when people assume that shoehorning something into the video game format is sufficient, in and of itself, to edutain the target audience, without pausing to consider whether the subject matter is appropriate for video games or whether the particular game is engaging enough to be useful. Hopefully this is one area of the gaming world where the evolution is still underway.