Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why Grand Theft Auto Should Be Taught in Schools

Henry Jenkins in interviewing David Hutchison has been thinking about why Grand Theft Auto should be taught in schools.

"I want to introduce you to David Hutchison, the author of a recently released book, Playing to Learn: Video Games in the Classroom. Hutchison's book promises over 100 game activities appropriate for classroom use, a selection that spans across academic subjects (language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, history, geography, health & physical education, drama, music, visual arts, computers, and business) and grade levels (including both elementary and high school).

What motivated you to write this book? Why do you think teachers should be incorporating games more fully into their classroom activities?

I wrote this book in part because I enjoy playing video games myself and I am always looking for synergies between my play time and my work time as a teacher educator and university professor... I believe that video games should be referenced in the K-12 classroom for a variety of reasons. First, video games can provide teachers with an effective instructional "hook" since so many students are gamers in their out-of-school lives. Second, many (younger) teachers are also gamers. Through gaming, they have cultivated a knowledge base which can serve them well as part of their pedagogical toolset...

It strikes me as nonsensical that so many students and their teachers may be going home at night to play the same games, but then returning to the school the next day with no intention of ever sharing their mutual passion for video games.

I would also say that from a cultural point of view, I see some video games as harbingers of the future. They play with the "world" - past, present, and future - in ways that are impractical (sometimes impossible) in the real world. Some games purposefully bend the laws of physics in exploring new virtual gameplay ideas. Multiplayer video games (and the Internet more generally) experiment with new forms of social organization that go beyond our everyday ways of living.

All of this strikes me as pedagogically interesting and worth studying in K-12 schools...

I would say that my book is more focused on traditional teaching and learning techniques in which the video game is studied as a cultural artifact, rather than "lived through" as an embodied pedagogical experience. Activities which ask students to write a video game review or analyze the leaderboard statistics for a driving game in math class, for example, are fairly approachable by most teachers. They essentially treat the video game as a manipulative that can be utilized as a pedagogical tool by teachers in a wide variety of subject areas...

In writing the book, I set it as a goal for myself to incorporate the Grand Theft Auto series into at least one activity. (The "Hot Coffee" controversy was brewing around me as I began writing the book :) The GTA activity I chose tasks students with creating their own kid-friendly open-world game that doesn't include all the adult content we normally associate with games in this franchise.

I also wanted to encourage teachers to deal with controversial ideas related to video games. There are contributed discussion articles in the book that address debates related to video games and violence, video game addiction, gender bias in video games, and health and video games.

My sense is that the book could have been roundly criticized - and rightly so - if I had chosen not to deal with the many criticisms made of video games - for example, that they produce obese layabouts with no social contacts in the real world who are prone to violence and live in a fantasy world 

Discussing the above stereotypes in class is worthwhile in my view. Studying these stereotypes by having students conduct research to test their veracity is even better. There are also activities in the book that aim to help students effect personal lifestyle changes related to their video game playing habits, such as paying close attention to their posture and reducing the amount of time they spend playing video games each week."

It's nice to see that some people out there do get technology in education.

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