Learning By Video Game

>> Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You might remember the Woody Allen line from 'Sleepers' where he says "Everything my mother told me is 'good for me' is actually bad for me: milk, sun, red meat, college. . ." Today could it be that the reverse has come true: that something that's been the scorn of parents for 25 years -- video games -- could be good for you?

I'm not talking about how Grand Theft Auto is the secret to higher SAT scores. But I recently had an experience that led me to question conventional wisdom about video games and their future role in how children learn.

My two young boys are die-hard Beatles fans and spent last summer anticipating the release of Beatles rock band. We hadn't owned a rock band game -- the boys had learned to play courtesy of their Uncle Kelsey, our own closet Ozzie -- but knowing the basics, they were already primed when the 6 year-old's birthday came three weeks after the game's release.

And they became Beatles. At least in their own sweet heads. Playing on stage with the Fab Four at the Cavern Club, in Shea Stadium, at Abbey Road. They (and their friends) have been mesmerized by the experience of the game and the sense that they are creating the music right alongside the real Beatles.

But then a funny thing happened. Like a lot of parents, before we ever thought of Rock Band we bought a piano (and two guitars, and a drum set) to try to encourage our own little musicians to blossom. Not our efforts, nor the thousands of dollars we've probably paid to instructors over the years, made any real impact -- but Beatles Rock Band did. Both boys now sit and doodle at the piano, or will now and then pick up and strum a real guitar. Lessons are still required, but now the desire is firmly there.

I read that when the Beatles were contemplating developing their version of Rock Band, this was their very premise: Rock Band wasn't a game, but a modern day tool that would bring the joy of music to an age that mostly knows pop tarts (the Brittany Spears/Shakira kind) or what they hear on the radio (which is basically the same stuff that was being played on radio when PacMan was first released). The Beatles were right again. Talk in the language of your audience, and you'll be surprised how deeply you can affect them.

Now all we need is the video game that makes that course on Beowolf enjoyable and we're good to go. Be well.


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