PLN and Media Literacy at Age 10: What’s There (and What’s Not)

I thought I’d put this up a year ago, but it looks like I never did.

Basically I filmed my daughter talking about this game Castle Crashers she plays and how she uses the web to figure things out about it.

A bit of background — Castle Crashers is a side-scrolling beat-em-up game that is playable in solo or co-op mode. One of the main attractions of the game is the amount of hidden functionality — the secret combos, weapons, and gameplay-paths that are the currency of gamer culture.

Anyway, here’s my daughter a year ago talking about how she plays it. I’d actually given her no guidance on how to use the internet to help her with this at all, this is all pretty native stuff:

Here’s some stuff I found interesting:

1. I have said it before and I will say it until I am blue in the face: you can’t tell if gameplay is educational simply by looking at the game. Katie is playing a game which on the surface appears to have all the educational worth of a Tom and Jerry episode. But she has developed rudimentary search strategies, she’s grasped that the answer is likely to be found in the network (not a book). She uses (as a consumer) screencasts, wikis, google, and other tools to solve problems (in a way that should make less tech-literate people a bit ashamed).

2. But there’s a lot of stuff missing here. She’s not really sure how people put stuff up on the wiki, for example. She’s not using a personal network to filter through information. She gets that anyone can do it, but doesn’t necessarily know the mechanics. If she had to sort through *unreliable* information on Castle Crashers or to receive the very latest information she’d have to tweak her strategies.

3. Still, she’s 10 years old and she knows that rather than find a Castle Crashers site and then try to navigate down to a weapons submenu you type “Castle Crashers weapons” into Google. If you’ve ever had the experience of someone complaining they can’t find something on the college website but you ask them whether they used the search function and they say no — then you have to appreciate this.

4. This isn’t shown in this video, but she is a creator/contributor as well, and much of that ability came out of gaming. During her Castle Crashers stint she started making fan videos of games. Here’s the father’s day card she made me last year (Because we both like playing the Wallace and Gromit XBox game and we both like the band The Submarines):

And here’s a project she moved onto last September. Her little sister (age 6) had made up a silly song. Katie’s response? Let’s make a video for your song!

So that leads me to I think point #5: These skills continue to develop outside the gaming realm, and point #6: Typical evolution of a creator starts with co-opting content (video of video game, another’s song as soundtrack) and moves from there to original production — if you crack down on that initial step, you risk killing a kids potential.

What’s the takeaway for us in education? Above all, I think we need to see that our focus on games and other activities as content rather than ecosystems is reductive and unhelpful. Castle Crashers is in many ways a fast paced and mindless game, but the activity around it takes focus, strategy, and creativity.

What an object is is defined by the interactions with it and around it, and video games are no different. If the environment around the Castle Crashers is good, it can be as instructive as a history class.

The reverse holds true as well (A history class in a bad environment can be as junk food as the worst video game), but we’ll deal with that later…

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