Terra Nova wrote about learning stuff from video games and Games*Design*Art*Culture added some thoughts. It looked to me like the general line of reasoning was this: Gamers like to claim that violent games don't teach violent behaviors, yet we say that we can make games to teach people nonviolent subjects; How can we live with the contradiction? Do games teach or not?
I thought I'd throw in my ever-decreasing-in-value two cents.
So I guess here's my 1.43 cents.
I think the answer to this lies in the distinction between exactly what games are teaching, can teach and do teach.
My most important assertion: There is not necessarily a one-to-one relationship between the actions a person makes in a game and the thought patterns they are extrapolating from that manipulation.
As an example: when I make Mario jump, I'm not learning how to jump better. Nothing in that action prepares me to slam-dunk. I'm certainly not making it more likely that I will increase jumping in my daily life, or that I'll run around trying to smash turtles. What I may be doing is increasing my reaction time to projected sequences in a virtual space. What's commonly called twitch-behavior. I'm also formulating an analysis of how long it takes for Mario to jump in response to my button-press and therefore calculating a general plan of how to react to future threats.
Of course, I've already talked in this blog about how firing a gun in real life is just not at all like firing one in a video game. This still doesn't mean that a kid won't build a conceptual model of firearms that is strikingly flawed, with lethal results.
But if your child shoots someone because they claim to be unsure of the lethality of a gun because in a game it takes several shots to kill someone, then your child is an idiot. Plain fucking truth. Because what's at issue there is that the child was willing to do violence. The fact that they 'didn't know' the gun would kill is irrelevant. Someone, some real-life human being, failed to teach basic socialization to that child.
So we're really talking about different issues.
The first thing we should investigate is: What types of attitudes are games suggesting as valid, what effect does this have on different ages of gamers and what types of behaviors are they adopting in response to those attitudes?
The second thing we should investigate is: What types of general thought processes are utilized/formulated while playing video games and to what degree are they applicable to different real-world tasks?
The third thing we should investigate is: What are the best formats for maximizing retention of information in educational games, and what kind of interactions produce that retention?
The fourth thing we should investigate is: Why the fuck can't such seemingly educated people as politicians tell the goddamn difference between correlation and causation, still?
Games don't so much teach as suggest. I would argue that they aren't necessarily as suggestive as non-interactive media because a gamer has the ability to modify the media. In a first-person-shooter the player always has the option to not shoot back. It's highly unlikely to be a course of action, but the choice is there. An Arnold Schwarznegger movie, where he blasts Arabs while spouting cheesy jokes, offers no choices at all - which, to me at least, makes it more pedantic than any videogame.
Children are impressionable. This is clear. The problem with any kind of media is that without a mature figure to guide children, they are going to learn all sorts of really shitty, backward, awful behaviors. That's because a good portion (most? all?) of art/media rely on the expression of emotions that are strong and important and aren't necessarily fluffy and cuddly. Sometimes the media has room to comment on itself, to help provide a reasonable framework, but often this isn't the case. Which is where educated, socially-aware individuals come into play.
And in reality, we live in a world of shitheads and bad parents and worse role models and violent, insane assholes.
There will always be people claiming that the video game made them do it, or the television, or their abusive daddy, or the talking dog, or twinkies, or any other stupid thing they can throw up like a magical ward.
The riddle of our actions is that nothing makes you do anything, but everything makes you act. The best solution may be fostering culpability, and indeed much of maturity could lay in being able to claim your mistakes and failures, no matter how terrible or idiotic.