Can Video Games Help Kids Read Classic Books?

Probably not, but the people at Amplify have invested a pretty penny in the hope that they can! This article was posted today on USAToday and it asks the question whether video games can motivate kids to read classic books like Alice and Wonderland or Frankenstein. Evidently, kids aren’t reading the classics anymore and are instead off listening to their rap music, playing a shim sham, or twirling a tire (Or whatever kids do).

At risk, my friends, is our future. I don’t think I have to tell you, but if kids don’t read the classics then our society will fall into a hellish landscape of deviancy and  stupidity. At first it’s the classics they don’t read, then its your Miranda rights, and lastly it’s the label on the bottle of poison that says “do not drink”. Anarchy and hellfire will take hold and WE’LL ALL BE DOOMED because the kids didn’t read Moby Dick.

Games like “Alice: Madness Returns” have already attempted to make learning the tales of classic games fun, by making them exceedingly violent and full of hacking and slashing

That of course is the most likeliest of outcomes. To offset this inevitable demise, Amplify has created “Lexica”, which the article describes as:

massive role-playing game for young teens that invites them to interact with characters from great novels and read the books outside of class if they want to get ahead in the game

Sounds riveting. The game’s world is apparently one in which the worlds books are being safeguarded from the dullards of the world so that no one can read them. Characters from the classics book escape from the books to seek help and seek out players to read them. Literary types are the most needy. It’s then up to players to assist the characters by reading books outside of the game. Players will be reward with in game rewards such as abilities and items. Sounds like a novel idea (HA HA!), but what’s going to motive these kids to play this game?

“The Evil Empire, as it were, believes that you’re not smart enough and you’re not good enough,” he says. “You’re certainly not good enough to write something yourself, because only great writers can be the ones who create books. And, in fact, you probably shouldn’t even be reading these things, because you’re not smart enough.”

Oh. The game actively tells you that you’re not good enough, and that’s supposed to motivate kids to prove them wrong. What about the kids that don’t? They’ll just be defeated and forever cast into a life of stupidity? Negative reinforcement is the best way to motive kids!

Will this work? I’m skeptical. Lexica certainly wouldn’t be the first educational game designed to teach kids classic literature, in fact there’s been plenty of titles attempting to do so throughout gaming history. What the developers of the game intend to do is make the game apart of school’s curriculum, but if no one adopts the game then it’ll most likely never see the light of day. Teenagers aren’t morons. They’ll know when they’re being tricked into reading books, and they don’t need video games to persuade them to do so.  The bigger question is “Is there a need?” Every generation worries that the next is lacking skills or knowledge that they hold dear, but it’s never really the case. TV was marked as an indicator that kids would eventually lose interest in reading and that our kids were in trouble. It didn’t stop kids from reading, and neither will video games.

Sony’s Wonderbook hoped to make reading fun! It flopped!

“The main educational goal is to get kids to be doing more reading of an ambitious sort outside the classroom. Kids today probably read more words than ever before, but they’re tweets or text messages from each other. This is to try to get them to do something which they’re not doing as part of their daily habits, which is reading books of a reasonably ambitious sort.”

Or to sell more tablets. While Amplify seems pretty noble in their journey to save the classic for kids, they’re really just pushing software and products. The article goes on to tell about Amplify’s new tablet that they have just released for a cheap $349 with a two year subscription. Certainly, if they were more motivated by teaching kids the classics they wouldn’t make their program for a tablet that is overpriced to only the most affluent of families.

What this article really gets at is that video games are increasingly being used as tools of education and socialization. They’re teaching our kids and engaging them in ways that weren’t before possible. While it’s unclear weather games like Lexica are the future of this socialization and education through video games is unclear, but certainly they’re a stab at it.

But maybe I’m too pessimistic. Maybe we should be looking to video games to help educating our kids. I had educational video games that I played when I was younger, and my favorite part of computer class was playing Sticky Bear, but I don’t know how much they really aided in my education. That said, video games in general probably did help me develop essential reading skills when I was a kid. Games that were text heavy like Legend of Zelda or Pokemon probably further developed my reading and comprehension skills, and today’s youth certainly seem to have a thing for playing tablet games at a young age, so perhaps it’s not so farfetched. However, I just highly doubt we’ll look back on Lexica as a tool of education that turned thousands of kids onto classic literature. Prove me wrong Amplify.

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3 Responses to Can Video Games Help Kids Read Classic Books?

  1. Paigh Loyd says:

    This is interesting and very new to me. As a parent, I always want my kids to get interested and learn reading even more. The only education tool I’ve been using is the Hooked On Phonics program which has really effective approach. However, I’m looking forward to also try this educational material for their learning process. What age does this product is recommended for?

    • ianrl1989 says:

      Thanks for the interest. I haven’t heard too much feedback on the Amplify educational program since their initial announcement last summer. In my post I talk mostly about Lexica, one of the games they had planned, but it seems as though Amplify has a broad range of educational tablet based games for nearly all grades. I can’t speak to their effectiveness, as I haven’t seen them in action myself, but if you’re interested you may want to check out Amplify’s website: http://www.amplify.com/.

      Hope that helps, and if you do end up using their program or any video game based educational material please let me know how it went. Video Game as educational tools is still an emerging and fascinating field in both sociology and education.

  2. Pingback: Groznawstwo. Krótkie podsumowanie głównych nurtów teoretycznych w game studies | Zao(g)RANI

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