- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Video games, hated by parents and teachers as the enemy of learning, may be good for children after all.

The speed, color and action of the small screen can be harnessed for education, given enough investment in research. And that’s not the conclusion of some band of slackers.

It comes from the Federation of American Scientists, a body that normally deals with weighty issues such as nuclear-weapons proliferation.

The group yesterday called for federal research into how the addictive pizazz of video games can be converted into serious learning tools for schools.

The theory is that games teach skills that employers want: analytical thinking, team-building, multitasking and problem-solving under duress.

Unlike humans, the games never lose patience. And they are second nature to many youngsters.

The idea might stun those who consider games to be the symbol of teenage sloth.

Yet this is not about virtual football or skateboarding. Games would have to be created and evaluated with the goal of raising achievement, said federation President Henry Kelly.

There’s already an audience; more than 45 million homes have video-game consoles.

“If we can’t make the connection, shame on us,” Mr. Kelly said at a press conference.

What’s needed, he said, is research into which features of games are most important for learning — and how to test students on the skills they learn in games. The departments of Education and Labor and the National Science Foundation would lead the way under this plan.

“This is an investment that the private industry simply is not capable of taking,” said Mr. Kelly, a White House science and technology leader during the Clinton administration.

“This is the kind of thing where the federal government has always acted in the past to underwrite basic research that you need to drive an important movement forward,” he said.

Getting costly research about games on the federal agenda is just one obstacle.

There are plenty of others. Schools, colleges and universities are a fractured market. They make their own buying decisions and are likely to be dubious about the value of games.

The gaming industry has figured out that educational games don’t make money in the consumer marketplace. The new approach would market them directly to schools.

Doug Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, said there will soon be 75 million Americans ages 10 to 30 — a demographic that grew up on video games.

It’s good to hear a respected group say that video games are not a blight on society, said Mr. Lowenstein, whose group represents U.S. makers of video games.

“Common sense tells us that a medium so basic to the lives of these ‘millennials’ has potential beyond the living room,” Mr. Lowenstein said. “We would be crazy not to seek ways to exploit interactive games to teach our children.”

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