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Herbert Series discusses video games in education

By Katie KrahulikSTAFF WRITER

On Wednesday Dec. 2, 2015, the Herbert Lawrence School of Communication hosted its sixth event of the Herbert Insider’s Event Series. Dr. Brian McKernon, a games scholar and cultural sociologist, delivered a lecture called “Rethinking Digital Play: The Civic and Educational Significance of Video Games.” His goal of the event was to “share modern projects.” He described his research in gaming and explained his vision for how games can be an educational remedy in the future. “The goal of using video games is to diminish cognitive biases,” Dr. McKernon said. McKernon has been part of a study called the “Cycles Project” where he and a team of game specialists created a game to improve human intelligence by “lowering people’s chances of falling for cognitive biases.” “The results of the study were phenomenal. Students learned,” McKernon said. Dean Adria Marlowe, assistant dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communications, helped host the event. “This is actually the sixth of a series which we called Herbert Insiders Event. We host two per semester and we do them on a variety of topics. Sometimes we bring in alumni, sometimes we have faculty members bring in their colleagues or we’ll bring in people we know in the industry to talk about a variety of different things,” Marlowe said. “It’s been successful for the most part. It’s a great way to bring in professional people who wouldn’t normally be talking to classes, and we open up the events to the entire campus.” Along with Marlowe, Professor Jingsi Christina Wu, a co-host for the event, felt that these events are necessary to present to students. “As a school of communication, I think it’s imperative that we keep abreast with the latest developments in the field,” Wu said. “Game studies and digital media research represent a different tier of communication research. Even the speaker said that gaming has become one of, if not the most common, of leisure activities of regular Americans, both as media users and media producers.” McKernon shared what sparked his interest in studying the effects of video games. “The shorter answer is that one thing I realized early as a student in high school was that I seemed to learn better or be more interested in the subject when it has entertainment features like with powerful stories, interesting characters and compelling plots. So early on, I thought about that and if I wanted to, let’s say, tell somebody a certain point about the history of racism I would point to these films or fictional books,” he said. “For me, those worked really well, but I was always a fan of games. I thought maybe for previous generations movies were doing it, and for younger generations, games might be the right way to approach it.” He then explained his hopes for the future of video games. “Ideally, I want to see the demographics of games expand. I’d like to see more people and diverse audiences doing things with games both designing them and playing them. I would like to see more education from primary school to higher education incorporate games in classrooms.” With eminent opposing views against video games, McKernon addressed the conflicts associated with gaming and how to handle the negative influences games might create. “We absolutely should be concerned about the type of values, identities and worldviews that other types of games are sharing. This all exists in a very complex way. The relationship we have with any form of media is not going to be one way. Just because a game has a certain identity that we see on the outside that might not be the way the player actually sees it,” he said. “So, yes it could very well be that certain games are promoting violence and maybe some people are feeding into that. Other people will say ‘That’s not what I like about this game, in fact that’s what I dislike the most.’ As a researcher it’s very important to keep that in mind. We can’t just assume, but we absolutely should have these concerns.” Alexandra Weinstein, a senior mass media major studying media law and policy, admits that she gained insight from McKernon’s lecture. “If there is anything I learned, it’s that more games should be utilized within the classroom,” she said. “Children can play Civilization, Minecraft and Cycles alongside their lessons. Teaching with active participation seems to be a more effective method of retaining information and creating an interest in either history or engineering; it all depends on how you play the game and what you can take from it. Planned lessons and games should coexist.” Nick Bofardi, is a sophomore communication major studying TV production and is another advocate for video games. He shared his take on the topic and on Dr. McKernon’s view. “For the most part I would go home, sit around, and play video games for a few hours,” Bofardi said. “I never considered it as much of an educational tool as he talked about, but I guess I could see how different genres of games, such as the ones he described [Minecraft and Civilization] could be effectively used in an educational setting. It was not the way I traditionally looked at games, but I guess he studied it so he has a much better background on it. It was cool to hear it from his perspective because he put kind of a twist on it.”

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