April 07, 2005

Video Games as Instructional Tools

Being one of three girls growing up, I was never really exposed to video games. My father refused to hook anything up to our TV, and the most advanced video game on our computer is still Minesweeper. The most video game experience I ever garnered was when I conned my best friend into letting me borrow her Super Mario for Gameboy. I never thought of myself as deprived, because my sisters and I had more than enough fun making up intricate soap-operaesque storylines involving our vast collection of Happy Meal toys. After playing Colossal Cave Adventure a couple of weeks ago, I found that I was lacking not only the terminology used in games such as these, but the experience of using trial and error as a problem solving tool. While growing up, I never experienced locked grates that I needed to figure out how to open and I was never asked to navigate through a series of underground caves. The most navigation I've ever had to do is find my way from Jersey to Greensburg, and the only time I was faced with a physical barrier was when I accidentally locked myself out of my house (My solution? Walk down to the neighbors and play in their pool until mom comes home). When faced with the simple problem solving needs of Adventure, I got quickly frustrated and didn't want to work anymore. Perhaps that's because the only real problem solving I've ever had to do was in math class. While I have always disliked math because of the frustration I felt when I couldn’t understand something, the feeling of pride and accomplishment that you get once something finally does click couldn’t be greater. Unfortunately for me, that never came often enough =)

In Pick Up Ax, Clarvoe gives us three characters who have very different problem solving strategies. Keith is the technological geek who would rather sit at his computer and think than worry about the business-end politics of his company. Ever since he was a kid, he deferred to Brian, his business partner, when it came to making any real decisions. Brian truly cares about Keith and their business, but is quickly intimidated and overwhelmed by the upper business world. Because of their inability to manage the upper-level problems posed to them, their business begins to decline. Suddenly, the character Mick enters, who is willing to use his mighty problem solving tools to help their company succeed. He doesn’t know anything about their technology, but he has connections and the know how to fight the big fish. The only problem is that he is fighting too hard. His ideas of problem solving do indeed help them grow, but they manage to alienate their suppliers and their board in the process. His methods are a bit dishonest and they don’t sit well with Brian, who eventually can’t handle the pressure and resigns. Keith continues to seemingly be oblivious to everything around him until the end when he finally shows that he has learned how to correctly deal with the problems posed to him. He manages to rid himself of Mick and save his company in the process. Although, like me, he was at first reluctant to solve the problems around him, by sheer observation and a bit of cunning he was able to grow up and start taking care of himself.

In Galatea 2.2, the beginning Implementations had a difficult time processing the information fed to them and making decisions based off this information. Until Helen, not one of the Imps was willing to extensively use trial and error as a problem solving tool, nor really sit and think about the correct answer. Because of this ability, we believed her to be more human than the other implementations. But in the cases of Keither and I, isn’t frustration and avoidance also very human? I don’t believe Helen really reached “human” status until she sat there and said “I don’t want to think about it.” She wanted to avoid the problems, the fear, and the frustration surrounding her. I suppose the only way she could really be improved would be to make her want to work in spite of those problems so that when she finally finds the correct answers she feels pride.

Because I had played parts of Adventure before reading Heller’s essay, I was not nearly as confused as I would have been had I never played the game. I was able to see the parallels to the game and his real-life experiences in the cave with Crowther. Heller really managed to display how the game mirrored his reality, and because it is a game, it has enabled thousands of people to “experience” the hardships, difficulties, and problems posed by caving. Through his game, people can learn the important lessons Heller learned by actually going in the cave without experiencing the pain of muscle cramping, hypothermia, or having legs that “do a bad impression of a sewing machine.”

I suppose when all of my futile attempts to get my dad to let us play video games failed, I should have asked him to take us on a caving expedition. Maybe then he would have caved (no pun intended) and bought us Nintendo.

Posted by JohannaDreyfuss at April 7, 2005 01:42 PM | TrackBack

Puns! Horrible puns! Arrgh! (Now I can die happy!)

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at April 7, 2005 03:02 PM
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