Sweaty palms…nausea…darting eyes….racing heart…I’m in complete withdrawal. As I stare at my phone sitting on the counter I realize I am an addict…addicted to games. It all started with Pong. Pong, you were a deceptively simple game for a simple platform in much simpler times, but you had a complex hold on my heart. Years have gone by, color has been introduced, themes have developed but we still obsess over the most simple of games. From Tetris to Line Rider, from crosswords to Sudoku, from checkers to Jenga, recent decades have brought us simple skill games that manage to suck hours of our lives. You are welcome to pretend you have never felt the pull of one of these time wasters but we all know your deep, dark secrets. Inside all of us is just another Angry Birds addict.
If you have been lucky enough to have a cell phone so old that it does not have an operating system that supports Angry Birds, then I congratulate you on officially spending more of your time positively contributing to the world than I. At first it was an itch: the birds called to me, begging me to catapult the army of warriors into battle, each seeking a pig to wreck havoc on. I spent hours, days, and weeks perfecting each level, with no reward except unlocking the next terrorizing level for me to defeat. At my worst, I was ignoring conversations at home, going to movies and not watching them and reading books only to have to reread them. Could it make its way into the classroom? We all hoped not, but it turns out I was probably the only one in my class not playing the game in school.
I would find myself stuck on levels, with no one to turn to. Panicked I had reached my peak potential in the game and would go no further, I texted friends and searched forums for the answers. Why had I not considered it before? It was the new school answer to the old school cheat code magazine: YouTube had clips upon hundreds of clips dedicated to showing how to achieve maximum points on every level. Angry Birds was viral. There was no question. And then it happened. The wizards at Roxio released Angry Birds: Seasons. Never again would I spend another Halloween, Christmas, or Easter alone. The doomed little piggies in each level played along nicely by donning holiday inspired hats and clothing. They rested in cobwebs, behind snowmen and in overly pastel environments. Was it too much? Of course it was, but how could our culture ever simply stop when the first version was so successful even if it meant following the original up to nauseating lengths (see almost every movie sequel ever made minus a few exceptions)?
So, Angry Birds, where do we go from here? I have dedicated tons of my free time to you, and much of my non-free time when I should have been doing other things. I feel like it might be time we go our separate ways. I haven’t conquered all of your levels but I have to tell you the truth: there is someone else. “It isn’t you, it’s me.” I have found someone who needs my time more than you. No, not school or family or adult responsibility, but…zombies.
So here I am. Laying in bed at 3 am. I have heard that bright lcd screens on phones and iPods/Pads/Phones can keep you awake. At this point, however, it isn’t the screen keeping me awake but the countless zombies that I have been instructed to defeat. Stupid Zombies. More than just a demeaning statement, Stupid Zombies is my new simple game. Sorry Angry Birds. It began innocently. As I walked into class the other day I swiped a student’s phone and said, “Whatcha playin? Angry Birds?” I thought the student would be impressed that I knew the game and I secretly laughed inside while I reminisced on the hours I’d spend honing my craft. However what came next caught me off guard. “Ewww….Angry Birds is soooooo last year, Mr. James,” my student proclaimed lunging for her phone. “Stupid Zombies is soooooo much better.” Hmmm. Stupid Zombies, eh? ‘I’ll have to check that one out,’ I thought. It was the beginning of the end (for the zombies)!
Before I delve any further into my newest “simple” addiction, I think its important take a moment and look at how important gaming is to education. I could give you the worn arguments about the impact on hand-eye coordination, or amplify the simple task/reward concept maps that can relate to curriculum, but we all know what these games truly bring to the classroom currently: sheer annoyance. Students will do anything they can to hide a cell phone in a sweatshirt, under a backpack, or inside of a book so they don’t have to stop playing their favorite games.
Make no mistake; I am by no means degrading the impact that games have on the field of education, in fact, quite the contrary. I believe the power that games have on the field of education is much greater than we think. We frequently look for scientific proof that gaming has a positive impact on education, all the while ignoring its greatest attraction: motivation and visual response. From our youngest stages of being, we learn through games. When our brain is at its most immature, we help our youth adjust to challenges in the world by presenting them games. Games for children are short, simple, and brightly colored. They capture the child’s attention, demanding constant interaction and reward with immediate feedback. As we grow older the visuals and storylines may become more complex, but oddly enough the results are the same. We win or we try again: we don’t lose.
So what exactly is it about these games that is so luring? Is it the bright visuals? Is it the story lines and rewards? That can’t be all. Games that are much more visually stunning and complex such as Halo and Call of Duty have audiences that are just as dedicated as the Angry Bird/Stupid Zombie audience. If those platforms were more mobile, we may see just as much addiction to more complex games in public. However, those games usually remain in the home, or at least uninstalled (or blocked) on school computers. Can these games help assess our students? Can they help students who learn in different ways? Can they prove a new type of intelligence that we don’t currently honor in our current educational environment? Do we bring these types of games into the classroom? Do we study these games to figure out what correlation there is between motivation and learning? Do we ignore these games? That is the only question I can answer firmly, and my answer is: of course not.
Angry Birds: Wikimedia Commons
Stupid Zombies: Androinica
Image Collage: Gerry James