Many of today's kids would rather spend hours on a high-octane video game like "Civilization" than poring over "The Odyssey," Plato's "Republic" or some other literary classic. And that may not be as bad as you might think.
A growing number of experts and schools are embracing video games as a critical learning tool.
Public schools in Oakland and San Jose are experimenting with a game-like computer software program in an attempt to better prepare their students for the AP History and Calculus exams. Kipp Charter schools in California are piloting similar software to prep students for the SAT and ACT exams.
The embrace of games is not just taking place in California. Maryland Public Television has used federal dollars to create an online puzzle game, called Lure of the Labyrinth, to boost the pre-algebra skills of middle-schoolers.
James Gee, a professor at Arizona State University and a leading expert on the use of video games for learning, attributes the popularity of games to their ability to provide problem-solving opportunities, clear goals, and copious feedback.
In a post titled "10 Truths About Books and What They Have to Do With Video Games," Gee suggests games have some special properties that set them apart from books:
1. Games are based not on content, but on problems to solve. The content of a game (what it is 'about') exists to serve problem solving.
2. Games can lead to more than thinking like a designer; they can lead to designing, since players can "mod" many games, i.e., use software that comes with the game to modify it or redesign it.
3. Gamers co-author the games they play by the choices they make and how they choose to solve problems, since what they do can affect the course and sometimes the outcome of the game.
4. Games are most often played socially and involve collaboration and competition.
Although controversial to some, this "gamification" is a growing trend that has already taken root in the business and military communities, Gee said. He says the key question for schools is how the technology will be used.