Saturday, August 18, 2012

Video Game like Thinking

Years ago I remember Sarah and I observed our boys playing when suddenly one of them called 'pause' then proceeded a discussion about the nature of pressing the 'X button'. This was not a video game but rather a game they were playing outside borrowing the rules of video games they were playing at the time.

Fast forward a decade or so. Two weeks ago we were in Breckenridge for a family vacation. We sat for lunch in a small pizza/italian place. It's one of these places with paper and crayons so everyone was busy creating in one form or another. Oren who is 8 was busy creating mazes. Now Oren has been a maze fanatic since he was 5 or so. Usually he creates very elaborate designs that can be challenging. He often uses what appears to be mishaps in drawing (e.g. what appears to be accidentally incomplete lines are actually openings) to make the mazes harder.

This time he hands me a this puzzle with a smug look on his face.

Patiently he explains: S is for start F is for finish. I stare at him blankly, he smiles and encourages: "Just do it Abba". I draw a straight line from S to F and he responds smiling: "yes that's it". Then he proceeds to draw this one:

My first instinct is to see if any of the corners just appear to be connected or have tiny gates in them. No the boxes are all closed. "Can I go around?" I ask suspecting a trick. "No" he answers smiling. I know something is going on but I honestly cannot figure out where he is going with this. "I give up" I finally say. Oren then explains patiently. The thicker lines are doors and when you step on the lower case 'f'
they open. "How am I supposed to know that?" I ask incredulously. He looks at me not sure what I mean: "you try it out. You move until you step on the 'f' and see what happens."

It is common to hear "grown ups" criticize video games and the way they seem to engross kids. Here in a different way you can both see what video game thinking is and its impact on learning and thinking.
Oren created a basic level that demonstrated some of the basic rules. Then he proceeded to the real challenge. He also assumed a level of interactivity that is a part of all such games. The static paper and pencil game rules are too simple interactive/ experimental rules are so much more interesting and challenging- mostly because you have to experiment before you know the solution for sure.

I could go on for a while analyzing what appears to be his thought process but I would like to suggest that this video game thinking is analogous in many ways to learning in new domains, especially science and the arts. Instead of repeating known solution to familiar questions, what scientists and artists seek are new ways to respond to problems. They have to interact with ideas, materials and symbols to solve the problems. Video games fostered the right way opens our children to a new creative and thoughtful world of discovery and creation.
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