With most students throughout Australia still learning from home, it is not surprising that online games have increased significantly over the past few months.
Constant restrictions on community leisure activities coupled with juggling of parents who support their children’s transition to online learning with their own home based work means control of screen time has been relaxed. But should we worry?
The trend in families spending more time playing together has increased over time. Newest Australian Digital Report tells us that nine out of 10 houses have devices that have been used to play games, and 59% of parents play with their children. This trend tends to increase during the pandemic. Now is the right time to talk about the types of digital stories we follow, and how parents can rethink how playing games with their children has an impact on literacy and learning.
Digital storytelling captures rich, complex, and entertaining narratives of our world. Podcasts, YouTube videos, TickToks and social media creative works, and a series of smart phone applications now give everyday users the tools to create and share stories almost instantly.
While poetry was once held as the only medium where we can humanize and civilize the soul, the game industry is increasingly turning to storytelling to create new ways with words and stories. This is learning that takes place through new forms of storytelling that should be most interesting to parents.
James Gee has written extensively about the benefits of gameplay in his book What Video Games Must Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Australian researchers have also investigated the type of learning that occurs when digital games are introduced into primary and secondary classrooms. They have found that playing and learning games forces us to rethink how we teach literacy, which we teach young people to question challenging ideas and representations they find in video games, and that the knowledge and skills developed by young Australians through digital culture prepare them to be effective and active participants in contemporary society.
Unfortunately, the obsession with Naplan and standardized literacy tests has led many parents to conclude that learning can be reduced to what a student does with a pen and paper in the specified time conditions. Literacy learning is always more than this: it’s about how we use language with other people. It’s about how we understand linguistic, visual and musical representations. It also manifests the way we are involved with most of the digital media that now accompany the release of new games.
So how can we take a more active role in our children’s play?
Start by talking to your children about the game they are playing. Find out which genre and series they like. Investigate other games that have similar features. Sit and play with them. Take turns killing the dragons and building cities. That Proof tells us that computer-mediated communication between children and their parents increases closeness. Sharing experiences in the virtual world involves first coming together in the real world.
Given a very large range high quality games released in the last few years, it’s easier than ever to find a world of stories that adults and children can enjoy together. Do you want to travel to the past in the position of a deadly assassin (Assassin’s Creed), discover the world of post-nuclear war (Fallout 4), ride your dashing horse across west-west America (Red Dead Redemption 2), escape to the island remote to catch fish and insects, and develop your ideal home (Animal Crossing: New Horizons), or create a whole new world in a distant galaxy (No Man’s Sky).
There has never been a better time to travel to the digital world with our children to build new stories and memories together.
• Alexander Bacalja (PhD) is a language and literacy lecturer and member of the Center for Language and Literacy Research at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne. He is a Victorian delegation to the Australian Association for Teaching English
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