November 17, 2011

These observations lead to a strategy for those who wish to contribute to improving “education.” Forget about making games to teach children multiplication or spelling or any of those old-fashioned basic skills. The really basic skill today is the skill of learning, and the best use of games is to leverage their tendency to enhance it. I myself have two strategies for doing this. Professional game designers might add a third.

The first of my two strategies is to recognize that talking about games and learning is an important activity and to give it whatever boost I can. I encourage parents to engage in conversations with their kids about learning and I work at encouraging them to do this in a spirit of respect for the kids who have as much to teach as to learn in this area. I try to develop and disseminate vocabulary and concepts for doing so.

The second of my two strategies is to encourage children to become game designers themselves. This requires more technological infrastructure and more support from knowledgeable people. But I have found that when they get the support and have access to suitable software systems, children’s enthusiasm for playing games easily gives rise to an enthusiasm for making them, and this in turn leads to more sophisticated thinking about all aspects of games, including those aspects that we are discussing here. Of course, the games they can make generally lack the polish and the complexity of those made by professional designers. But the idea that children should draw, write stories and play music is not contradicted by the fact that their work is not of professional quality. I would predict that within a decade, making a computer game will be as much a part of children’s culture as any of these art forms.

Finally, the third strategy suggested for members of the game-designer community is to be aware of the kind of contribution their work is making to the learning environment and to shift it a little here and there, whenever they can, away from deceptive Shavian matings towards empowering children as independent learners.”

Papert, S. (1998) Does Easy Do It? Children, Games, and Learning. From the June 1998 issue of Game Developer magazine, “Soapbox” section, page 88. Also included is a letter in response to Papert’s article and Papert’s response to that letter, both of which appeared in the September 1998 issue of the magazine.

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