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Book Review: The Game Believes in You

This book is sure to excite and inspire educators, parents, students, video game aficionados, as well as provoke some passionate debate.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   20-04-2015
The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter by Greg Toppo, published by Palgrave Macmillan.

It's time to discard our terribly tedious and old-fashioned attitudes toward education: To learn, we must suffer, and anything pleasurable is not learning. In his well researched book, Greg Toppo, explains that video games can boost literacy and motivate students to read — and to read way above their level.

Hannah Gerber, a literacy researcher at Sam Houston State University, monitored several 10th-grade students at school and at home and saw that they read only 10 minutes a day in English class — but an astonishing 70 minutes at home as they boned up on games. Again, it is challenging. Sites devoted to video games like World of Warcraft, for example, are crisp, well written with plenty of “academic” and technical jargon.

Video games like Minecraft are also genuinely educational: Like an infinite set of programmable Lego blocks, it's a way to instill spatial learning, math and logic — skills prized by science and technology educators.

“What looks like escapist fun is actually deep concentration,” says Toppo of the sophisticated video games that now occupy popular culture. “What looks like a 21st-Century, flashy, high-tech way to keep kids entertained is in fact a tool that taps into an ancient way to process, explore and understand the world.”

Toppo's The Game Believes in You sparkles when it follows a small group of visionaries who, for the past 40 years, have been pushing to get game controllers into the hands of learners. The hip, cool game revolutionaries you'll meet in this book include:

  • A young neuroscientist and game designer whose research on "Math Without Words" is revolutionizing how the subject is taught, especially to students with limited English abilities.

  • The University of Southern California's Game Innovation Lab led by Professor Tracy Fullerton pursues experimental design of games rich in art, science and learning. Its current projects include the Collegeology games and the 3-D Walden video game which mimics the meditative outdoor life described in Thoreau’s best-known work, written about his two years spent in a cabin in Walden Pond, in Concord. The game allows players to follow in the virtual footsteps of Thoreau and conduct their own experiments living in nature.

  •  A Virginia Tech music instructor who is leading a group of high school-aged boys through the creation of an original opera staged totally in the online game Minecraft.

The book argues that video games "focus, inspire and reassure people" in ways that many teachers can't. "Games give people a chance to learn at their own pace, take risks, cultivate deeper understanding, fail and want to try again — right away — and ultimately, succeed in ways that too often elude them in school," says Toppo. 

It's also worth noting that video games are now a legitimate academic subject, with many universities offering degrees in video game design. You can head west, to the University of Southern California (USC), in Los Angeles. For the fourth consecutive year, test-prep firm Princeton Review, known for itsannual college "best" lists,reviewed 500 schools and ranked USC as the No. 1 game design school for its graduate program. It also has a first rate undergraduate program.

Schools have science and math requirements you need to have at least taken precalculus if you are applying for the Bachelor of Science program. It is also recommended for Bachelor of Art game design applicants. Schools look for “strong analytical thinkers” good in math, science and writing. 

According to Game Developer mag’s salary survey, the median salary in the video game business is $73,000. Leading video game makers like Nintendo, Capcom, Sony, Zynga, Atari, Blizzard, Take-Two Interactive, Electronic Arts, and others hire an army of video game animators, sound designers, game designers and programmers.

Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.

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