Library - Games as a Part of Today
 
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Games as a Part of Today's Culture

So are digital games an important part of today's culture?

Well, just stop for a moment and think about it.

When was the last time you saw people lined up outside stores for days so they could be among the first to buy the latest, coolest television? Or the hottest, most amazing new DVD? Or the fabulous debut CD by one of today's scintillating singing "Idols"?

It's been awhile, right?

Yet, every time there's a new release of one of the major video game consoles, throngs descend on electronics and department stores across America. And the same is true when new updates are released for the most popular games themselves. We all know the routine: the airways and cyberspace become filled with reports about people spending days sleeping outdoors in beach chairs, living solely on processed meat products and caffeine, so they can get the thing they so desperately want - the game.

Now some might say that all of this proves nothing. After all, those people in their beach chairs must be a little crazy, right? Who else would put themselves through such an ordeal just to be the first to play some games?

Yet when we look at the statistics, they tell a very different story. In fact, when we look at the statistics, it turns out that we have actually met the gamers and they are us ...

Here's the lowdown:

  • U.S. computer and video game software sales reached $7.4 billion in 2006, almost tripling the amount from ten years earlier.
  • The average gamer is 33 years old.
  • 67% of American household heads play computer and video games.
  • 80% of gamer-parents play video games with their kids. And 66% of those gamer-parents think that playing games brings their families closer together.
  • 38% of all gamers are women.
  • As of 2007, 24% of Americans over 50 play video games, up from 9% in 1999.
    (2006-2007 statistics from the Entertainment Software Association)
The bottom line here? If gamers are nut cases, there are a lot of nut cases in this country. And a good number of those people are grown-ups who have jobs and love their kids and are right smack in the middle of the American mainstream. So digital games are a very important part of our culture, with all indications suggesting that they're only going to get bigger.

Impact in the classroom

So the average gamer is perhaps a little older than we might have expected and games sure do make a lot of money, but what does all of that mean for our main area of concern ... kids and education?

Unlike most of the older gamers (i.e., their parents), today's children are growing up with digital games and all of other digital media that permeate 21st century life. And when you grow up with something, it isn't just a faint soundtrack heard in the distance, especially not in this case. For kids today, digital games and media are the very "stuff" of their lives, the prism through which they see and understand things.

And how does that prism impact their view?

Well, one of the most significant elements of digital games (and much other digital media) is that they're not done when you get them. And this is a departure for media in our culture. When you buy a book, of course, it's done. When you watch a movie or a TV show, it's also done. Those older-style media are considered finished and complete when they get to the consumer. Digital games, on the other hand, are anything but done when they get to their players. In fact, digital games rely on their players to finish and complete them. The story is different every time. The characters are different every time (especially when you get to create your own). The basic building blocks are always the same in a digital game, but that's just what they are - building blocks. Today's kids are growing up with the belief that blocks are indeed for building and that they are never set in stone. And this informs their concept of their place in the world and how they learn. (It's also the attitude that leads them to re-mix, re-cut and re-purpose so much of the aforementioned older-style media, like movies and music, the creators of which had meant as finished work.)

So we live in a culture where digital games loom larger and larger everyday. And today's kids are being shaped by this culture. They have expectations based on their experience with digital games and media. If we as educators don't try to address those expectations, we are going to have some very disinterested children - children who won't bother to learn in classrooms that don't bother to meet them where they are. However, if we do try to meet today's kids where they are, at least in part by making digital games a part of our classroom culture ... then we might really be onto something.