and the Attack on America
by Marc Prensky
When my best friend told me that her six-year-old
son was so scared that he wouldn't watch TV and that his lip started
to quiver any time the attack was mentioned, I began to wonder where
all that fear came from. Some of its source is obvious - the husband
of his older brother's teacher perished in one of the planes. But
as his "uncle" who is responsible for introducing videogames into
their household, and who has watched them become the boys' single
biggest desire for non-school time consumption (though their parents
wisely ration their time with the games) I began to wonder whether
there was any connection.
I am a passionate believer in video games' ability
to teach. In fact they now do so on a scale that dwarfs anything
ever seen (think Pokemon). This is because repetition and time are
two of the biggest keys to learning, and kids enjoy playing the
same games over and over and over hundreds of times. The statistics
show that the average American has now played over 10,000 hours
of video games before he starts work. People who spend so much time
with anything can't help but learn its messages. And the players
learn whatever ideas, concepts, fantasies and ethos the game designers
Interestingly, these are not the messages that have
often been suggested. Most experts agree that we are not - despite
the provocative title of one book - training our kids to kill. But
in our game designers' quest to make their games more and more addictive,
and to extend the play time of a single game to 30, 60 even 100
hours, here's what I believe we are teaching our kids.
They are learning that "enemies" are hard to defeat.
They are learning that fighting is ugly, and dangerous. They are
learning that as soon as you beat one enemy, there is another, harder
one on a higher level, and that at the top sits a really big, really
evil "boss" who requires all the skills you can master to conquer.
If a six year old really thought his games were about to become
real, I can understand how this would scare him to death.
But there are other, more positive lessons he is learning
as well. That if you persevere and learn enough, you can defeat
all the enemies and beat the game. That unlike the movies, the outcome
depends on you and not on some writer - on your choices,
your skill, your persistence. That information from
your friends and other sources can help you defeat the enemies more
quickly. That while there is always another game and another struggle,
it is something to look forward to - it further tests your mettle
and your skill.
I have found that with imagination it is possible
to combine these positive messages - plus all the engagement of
video games - with useful and appropriate learning content. The
military, which has over a quarter of a million 17 year-olds to
train every year, has been among the earliest to employ the power
of video games as a learning tool, using video games with military
content to train all levels from recruit to commander.
But up until now, this immersive, Digital Game-Based
Learning has often received skeptical reactions from traditional
educators, who wonder "does it really work?" It is hideously ironic
that after last Tuesday we now have irrefutable proof of just how
well training by games and simulation does work. It comes
from the mouth of the horrified and unknowing aircraft trainer who
said on TV that the terrorist pilots just sat in his simulator and
I also watched a TV reporter sadly demonstrate how,
in an under-$100 Flight Simulator Game, one can practice flying
a 757 into the World Trade Center over and over again.
Now that we have seen their formidable power used
for evil, it is our duty and obligation to turn these same powerful,
learning tools to as many good and positive uses as possible. This
clearly includes the task of fighting terrorism in all its forms.
We will all have a lot to learn quickly in these coming
months and years. Those talented game designers who have captured
our kids' imaginations and time so brilliantly up to now may have
a lot bigger role to play in their players' futures - and in the
future of our country and the world - than they ever dreamed.
Marc Prensky is CEO of games2train.com and the
author of the book Digital Game-Based Learning (McGraw Hill 2001)
2001 Marc Prensky