Books, Video Games and Literacy – Why can’t we all get along?

Today I have granted my class a “free afternoon” as a reward for reaching a group goal. The kids chose this option by vote, passing over such possibilities as: watching a movie in class, going to see a movie together, a trip somewhere, playing games outside… What they seemed most eager for, however, was the opportunity to bring in their PSPs, MP3 players, DS players etc. to use in the classroom. Since it was their choice, that’s what they’re doing. I would have prefered heading off to see Spiderwick, but as they say, “whatever.”

Yesterday at the end of the day when everyone was buzzing about today’s special afternoon, one of the little dahlings asked me quietly, “Can I bring a book?” I had to resist patting her on her head as I said, “Of course you may.”

First up, I admit I never had video games when I was a kid and I never play them now, don’t really know what all of the PSP, DS, BS (he he) is all about. I also confess readily that I tend towards the belief that a child is much better off with a book in his/her hands than a video game. I think this opinion comes primarily from the fact that I was raised to believe that games are an utter, brain-sucking waste of time. I acknowledge this initial prejudice, and I can see that video games are certainly not going away. Indeed, they are far more of a presence now than when I was a child. I feel uneasy about trashing and criticizing anything about which I have close to zero experience or knowledge. I can say, however, that many of the students in my class who are most eager to bring in their personal video game electronic devices are the students whose literacy skills (defined in the most conventional sense – ability to construct basic sentences, follow the conventions of the language, reading comprehension etc.) are the weakest. A coincidence? Is playing a video game as valuable to developing literacy skills as reading? There’s a hot question. 

Read this for more to ponder:

Is Our Children Reading?”

In the meantime, I don’t think I’m going to come to any firm opinion in this debate before the morning bell rings. I am quite curious to observe the little video-game love-in in my classroom today. Will books make an appearance? We shall see.

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2 thoughts on “Books, Video Games and Literacy – Why can’t we all get along?

  1. Vixie

    At the Particles of Narrative conference in Toronto this October there was a discussion about books being turned into videogames and whether or not this was a good thing. Someone made the point that in some videogames, children act as the creator of their own story, or a version of the story, and that this gives them a sense of authority and creative empowerment. Phillip Pullman made a sage comment that while there may be an element of creative control in videogaming, that in theory the book is the best possible version of the story, and children deserve the best. He is firmly of the belief that if the story is good, and you hook kids on story, the literacy skills will follow. (Of course he was far more eloquent than I and had lots of literacy allusions and references thrown in when he said it).

  2. shelfelf Post author

    Wow – thanks for this comment Vixie (it’s my longest ever!). I have to agree with Pullman’s opinions. Just last week my kids were really getting into the Greek myths, as we are studying Ancient Greece at the moment. At several points I asked them if they had heard of a particular god or goddess, and a handful of kids kept saying that they had. They told me that they knew “all about the gods” from a video game they all play. As it turned out, after a little discussion it was pretty clear that all they really knew of the gods / goddesses were their names. Not a lot of enduring understanding about the stories or the connections between the characters had come out of this particular gaming experience. I must be fair though, and mention that I think that the games have certainly added to the children’s excitement at learning more about the Greek myths, and I think it likely added to their confidence as they approached a somewhat confusing subject.

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