Online Gaming is Not Safe for ChildrenOne of the arguments against children and youth participating in online gaming I hear often, is that these are not a safe spaces, due in part, to the language and attitudes to which they can be exposed. Anyone who has ever survived Barrens chat has experienced this pain and knows the truth of the above statement. Lots of inappropriate, racist, and disgusting things can often be found written on in-game chat boxes. And of course the same dangers in online gaming, as in any chat rooms. or social media exists: the risk of being approached by predators online pretending to be children. The world of online gaming can be scary, and there are mean people out there who use the anonymity of the internet to behave in horrible ways.
However, I tend to look at the other side of the coin and suggest that if we don't model, discuss, and allow children to explore and apply what they have learned about navigating shared online spaces, they run the risk of learning online habits from the very players we want them to avoid. One of the great things about the Multi-school Minecraft server that I am a part of is, that it is a safe place for students to learn, practice, fail and succeed in communicating, creating and coexisting in a virtual world. There is griefing and other bad behaviour, but it is address, targeted and used as learning opportunities The online gaming world can be scary, but there are some pretty great people out there too. Some of the nicest people I know I have met because of an online role playing games.*
Also, learning how to deal with 'bad/scary' people online is important because: ignoring trolls does not make them disappear.
Parents are the Best ModelsEverything I learned about playing video games offline and online, I did not learn at school. As I have mentioned in other posts, I grew up gaming, and my parents were always a part of my video gaming experiences. My first lan party was with my family playing Age of Empires. So, unlike most kids, I had adults, and some pretty responsible peers who shaped my online gaming identity. Have I ever camped a body in WOW? Sure, no one is perfect. Yet, for the most part I treat others the way I want to be treated, I am fair, and I can express my opinions without the use of vulgar language, ignorant slurs or outright hate. Having my identity as a gamer partially constructed with support from my parents who played with me, and who I watched play, made me a better online citizen.
Partnership?While my blog tends to target educators, I do not believe educators work in isolation from the rest of the community. It is not the responsibility of the school system alone to teach children how to be digitally responsible. All of us who are stakeholders in the lives of the children in our community have a part to play in supporting children as they learn to live in the real and virtual world. Gaming is one way that we can shape the attitudes children have when dealing with anonymous people in an unreal world. Skills that children will, no doubt, need when they are working, or interacting with others in the real world right now, and later in life. Trolls, bullies, grief-ers, and bad friends can be real or virtual.
During ECOO 2013, after our session, +Liam O'Donnell, +Diana Maliszewski and I went to find a place to respond questions that were tweeted to us, and debrief. We were joined by @mswu who had questions about Minecraft and we had a great talk. Talking to people who are as passionate about gaming and digital literacy as I am, is the best part of ECOO. During our time I suggested that it would be helpful to facilitate connections to parents by having a parent Minecraft server. A place where parents who are adept at gaming could connect with parents who are less adept. A place where knowledge, strategies and experiences could be shared, and as a place to foster partnership between parents and the school to support our students. I thought, and Diana agreed, that this was a brilliant idea. As it turns out, this was not an original idea. At least one educator in the States is running a parent Minecraft server already. I don't really know anything more than the fact, that a parent server exists somewhere in the United States. I tried to find it, with little success, but I would really like to know more about what impact this partnership has made.
I can construct lessons that cover expectations from a variety of the Ministry of Education for Ontario Curriculum documents. Lessons that have outcomes that include students learning digital citizenship skills. But what I do in class can be left at the door of the school at the end of the day. Building a partnership that lead to a common understanding, language, and expectation for digital citizenship in more than one domain is what will have the biggest impact. Gaming is more than just killing and 'Pwning N00bs'. The attitudes that develop in gaming can help, or hinder a player and may have an impact in real life. Monitoring online gaming may not be as 'easy' as monitoring digital social media, yet as messy as it can be, it can also be fun.
You haven't lived until you have raided in WOW with your parents.
My Mom*For example; my brother met my brother-in-law in EverQuest and later introduced him to my sister. I think he's pretty alright. (Thankfully, my brother-in-law does not read my blog.)