Can Video Games Help Kids Read Classic Books?

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.


Study Shows Parents Are More Positive about Media Use, But Not Video Games

Study Shows Parents Are More Positive about Media Use, But Not Video Games

Northwestern University published this report last about parents’ attitudes towards media use for their children. Exciting stuff! Well, maybe not so. However, it’s worth a read because the study finds shows some interesting insights about changing attitudes towards media.

“hehe! We were told to each wear a different bright color!”

tl dr: The study finds that today’s parents have much more positive attitudes about allowing their kids to consume media than in past years. A majority of parents are not weary of letting their children consume most types of media, as they’re not worried that their kids will become addicted and have to spend their lives as circus folks ( I may be assuming the latter).

With the exception of video games, parents think more positively than negatively about the impact of media (including TV, computers and mobile devices) on children’s reading and math skills, and their creativity.

Math skills are a stretch, but this fact shows an interesting trend: today’s parents, who grew up with computers, TV and other forms of media are less weary of these mediums because of it. What didn’t get them won’t get their kids, right? Meh. That said, the study still finds that traditional forms of family activities still reign predominant in most house holds. Also, interestingly the number of households the article deem ” Media centric” and Media Moderate” is considerably higher than those deemed “Media-light” (Media-Light sounds like a milk substitute). What this could mean is that, while parents may say traditional forms of family bonding are at the heart of their family activities, it could very well be that media plays a far bigger role than they would like admit.

However, what is most relevant about this study to sociology and video games is that parents, despite this positive trend towards media, are still relatively negative about video game use for this kids.

Parents view video games more negatively than TV, computers or mobile devices. Parents rated video games as more likely to have a negative effect on children’s academic skills, attention span, creativity, social skills, behavior and sleep than any other medium.

Peachy. The study doesn’t say if this is a improvement upon previous studies or not, but we’ll just focus on this negativity. The concerns come mostly from parents worrying that video games will effect their children’s physical activity, though that seemingly isn’t a concern for the other forms of media (Surfing the net sounds physical!). These are valid concerns, granted, but should we be more weary of video games than other forms of media on our kids physical activity? Probably not, but it’s an easy target. Likewise, concerns of effects on academic skills, creativity, and attention span are questionable in comparison to other media. With such an array of video games out there, and especially with the amount of video games being created to push creativity and education in young children, it’s hard for me to believe that video games are more destructive to a children’s attention span, intelligence, and creativity than television or the computer.

If video games are to become more widely accepted as tools of socialization, parents needs to be aware of their values and the options they offer. With research and proper insight, parents can choose video games that promote health values in children. Not all children games are angry birds (I loathe Angry birds) or run of the mill cartoon tie ins, so games challenge kids to think out side of the box and inspire them to be more creative. Being a product of growing up with video games myself, I honestly believe games made me more creative and analytical. Games like Zelda taught me to examine my surroundings and think beyond what I can see, while games like Mario Paint inspired me to be more creative than I could be with mere paper and pen. …And Duck Hunt taught me hunt duck, but that’s besides the point. The point is, video games aren’t the menace they’re often made out to be. Like TV and other forms of media, what you get out of a video game comes down to your selection.

Lastly, the study was of 2300 parents. That’s a decent sample size, but it’s not huge. As a result, we have to question whether this represents parents as whole. Likewise, the study did not say how their results were gathered or how they chose their sample size; all good questions to ask if we’re choosing this study to represent a population.