by Marc Prensky
Paragon House, 2006
Review by Anthony R Dickinson, Ph.D. on Dec 16th 2008
Unabashedly pro-gaming, Prensky here offers a significant, and timely book which informs an important debate concerning children's use of computer-based gaming and its far-reaching implications for education. Furthermore, in this same volume (reworking some of his earlier essays appearing elsewhere), Prensky contributes nourishing food for thought with regards issues of parenting, with much practical advise (supported by relevant research data and appropriate citations), for discerning parents wishing to learn and better understand their child(ren)'s fascination with video- and computer-based gaming systems.
Indeed, Prensky has perhaps made his most convincing and strongest case yet for parental supervision in this book, whilst also urging their participation, guidance and shared skill development, in recommending co-operative gaming activities with children, in real time. Citing the more familiar literature concerned with surgeons, business entrepreneurs and career military operatives (who have been shown to become increasingly adept at their professional activities having 'practiced' with gaming environment-based skill acquisitions, we also read in this volume about the many ways in which young children's less 'obvious' learning experiences may be acquired, and shown to be of equal value with respect to their socio-emotional 'soft-skill' learning transferability in overcoming the challenges of their everyday modern lives. If Prensky is correct (and I agree with him on this point), the advantages of students learning so much about the significance of developing social and emotional skills may become even more self-evident with their engagement with the increasingly social and co-operative nature of multi-player games (including MMORPGs). Such may, however, be even further realised and experienced within the immediate family at home, as child(ren) can become (acceptably) surprised at discovering their parents newly found willingness to share, enquire, become better educated about, and explore with their children, what exactly it is about their voluntary engagement and interest in video/computer gaming that is so compelling to them ! Prensky has much to offer, across several chapters, in this regard, offering many tips and practical, helpful suggestions as to how parents may enjoy and share their child(ren)'s enthusiasm for 'learning whilst playing/gaming'.
Specifically addressing traditional education institutions (and the design of their standard curriculum features in particular), Prensky not only outlines some of the key components which may result in relatively low school-activity engagement for many students (why is it that given the choice, most students would rather 'play' video games than attend school lessons ?), he reminds us that "today's students are no longer the people our educational system was [originally] designed to teach". In contrast, modern gaming-literate (and competent) students are indeed those who have (re)wired their developing brains to handle relatively high speed interactivity, and high density parallel (rather than serial-sequential) processing structures, which are quite possibly 'underwhelmed' [this authors term] by the requirements of many school-based linear thought processes which can slow student learning (and may in turn possibly provoke episodes of boredom as expressed through withdrawal, frustration, or even ADHD-like symptamology).
In providing a balanced argument, Prensky addresses his critics from the "games are bad for children" camp with thoughtful reasoning, whilst supplying ample examples and resources for parents and scholars alike to reference for themselves. The author's accompanying website and its content are frequently reviewed and updated, and I would encourage both parents and teachers to also visit Prensky's www.gamesparentsteachers.com site, when reflecting upon their wish to lessen their child(ren)'s enthusiasms for (or preferential engagement with) learning via today's computer- and video-gaming systems. There are very good reasons why children are preferring to learn so much, and for so much of their time, by engaging with edutainment gaming environments.
© 2008 Tony Dickinson
Dr. Tony Dickinson, Academic Research Laboratory, Global Choice Psychometrics, Hong Kong