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September 17, 2008

the civic potential of video games

Many adults who care about civic and ethical education are hostile to video games. We assume that gaming is a solitary, passive, violent activity, unrelated to issues in the real world. Actually, games vary enormously; some of the most popular ones are challenging simulations of democracy and social issues. And gaming is not always solitary; sometimes it is a social and cooperative passtime.

According to the most ambitious and careful study to date, "Civic Implications of Video Games," what matters is not whether or how much kids play video games. The question is which games they play and how they play them.

For example, there are strong positive correlations between playing the Sims and active civic engagement in the real world. This is perhaps not too surprising because the Sims requires active thinking about social issues in a fictional setting. In contrast, Halo is a "first-person shooter" game. The report doesn't say that it correlates with traditional civic activity, but Halo does involve collaborating with other players online. Those who collaborate with others online are also more engaged in active citizenship. For instance, they are much more likely to talk about elections. Thus even Halo has some civic potential. We need to promote and celebrate the best games, develop more like them, and use them in conjunction with school, community, and family activities.

The whole report is worth careful study. It was written by the Pew Internet and American Life Project in collaboration with the Civic Education Research Group at Mills College.

September 17, 2008 2:02 PM | category: advocating civic education | Comments


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