Saturday, October 22, 2011

Time-orientation, the effects of video gaming on education, and the role of the family

RSA Animate has created a wonderful visual aid to Professor Philip Zimbardo's lecture on The Secret Powers of Time (link below). 
I'll discuss the following idea from the video:

The notion of time-orientation, and video games' effect on education in North American youth (primarily males).

Zimbardo lectures on the concept of 'time-orientation', and explains that one's cultural and social interpretations of time have profound impacts on everyday life. He explains that there are 6 'time-zones', or time-orientations that people live in: 2 for the past, 2 for the present, and 2 for the future.

Past oriented people are either:
Past-Positive, where they focus on all of the good things that have happened in their lives- the awards, successes, etc- these are the types of people who maintain photo albums or diaries
Past-Negative, where people tend to focus on their regrets, or failures- these are the people who blame their present, and any relative lack of perceived success, on their past, or past decisions

Present oriented people are either:
Present-Hedonistic, where they continually seek pleasure and avoid pain, probably the most basic of the time-orientations
Present-Fated, where people believe that they had might as well live in the present, because the decisions do not affect their future because it is fated- either fated because of their religion, poverty, or culture. The most obvious example here, being someone whose religion restricts them from participating fully in society.

Future-oriented people are either:
Future-Planning (my own term for what Zimbardo describes) where people learn to work rather than play, and plan for the future appropriately.
Future-Other (? Zimbardo doesn't actually finish this concretely), where people believe that life begins after the death of the mortal body. My sense is that this is similar to the present-fated orientation of time.
Zimbardo suggests that video games instil a sense of control in young people (young boys, specifically). They are able to control their virtual environment and can build entire worlds to their liking, thus they become programmed to learn in dynamic, digital environments that they alone have sole control over. He then suggests that this is the reason that boys tend to have increasing difficulty in traditional schools- schools are 'analog', they are static with one individual speaking about one topic for prolonged periods of time. Boys perceive this type of learning to be boring as it is passive, rather than active, and they have relatively little control over this environment.

Zimbardo's suggestion to resolving the issue of boys' inattentiveness and lack of motivation, as if solely due to video gaming, is to make schooling more interactive and dynamic to better serve an evolving audience of multi-tasking and control-obsessed young boys.

This could not be farther from the appropriate solution to the issue.  Re-creating the traditional learning environment in such a way that makes it more dynamic and attractive to these individuals would result in drastically reducing these young people's ability to focus their attention on specific learning objectives. Turning classrooms into gigantic iPads will enable children and youth to learn in a more comfortable environment in the short-term. However, when they become adults they may not be able to properly interpret static information, and create new ideas for themselves and for their generation.

The solution is not to change the school, it is change the video gaming.

I think Zimbardo needs to understand video gaming a little better. Video games today are designed to act as alternative parental figures for children:
  • They provide children with an immediate sense of gratification through immediate-to-short-term goal completion, thus providing children with the positive reinforcement of goal completion that should ultimately be coming from their parents,
  • They attempt to foster emotional relationships with characters/figures in the game in place of real-world emotional relationships, such as with family or parents,
  • They are designed to be addictive by allowing children to exercise a much more efficient method of self-gratification- what I mean by this, is that as a character in a video game, one can experience a life-time's worth of accomplishments in mere hours.
The point is that video games teach children and youth to be lazy. This is because video games offer an avenue of goal accomplishment, self-gratification, reinforcement, and praise that is much, much more efficient and easy than in the real world. This makes real-world tasks seem, by comparison, arduous, inefficient, and boring.

This may be a little politically incorrect, but the reason why some young video game-obsessed boys may not be doing well in school is not that they have learned to learn in a different way, and therefore we should cater to this newfound, and supposedly equivalent, method of learning. Rather, it is that children and youth who continually play video games are being programmed towards an over-arching culture of laziness.

We can make classrooms as dynamic and interactive as we want...but it will not inspire these video game-obsessed children to excel because the underlying fundamental philosophy of education is the acceptance of delayed gratification. These children are learning that gratification does not have to be delayed, because through video games it can occur as quickly as 5 minutes ago.

We are all born present-hedonists. Zimbardo argues that the purpose of schools, and education for that matter, it to transform present-oriented children and youth into future-oriented adults (depending on the culture). If schools are supposed to transform children and youth into future-oriented adults, who favour work over play, and who accept delayed gratification as a part of life, then they are going to need help.

It is time to get back to a culture focused on family values, where children are taught how to be ethical, upstanding, successful citizens in the home. This cannot happen if children are spending more time playing video games, than simply talking to their parents.  


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  2. I certainly share your concerns about the gamification of real life. Making everything a game is very dangerous as it first can discourage people of finding a general purpose in life, and can secondly provide tools to manipulate them through a system of instant gratifications. However, I like to think that if children make a choice, in this case playing often to video games, it has to be partly for good reasons. Maybe some of them realize that their family and school haven't much to offer them (in terms of chances of success in the future, care and love), and so rightly turn to more gratifying activities. Some video games are long and very challenging, even more than some courses at school, so it is not a question of being lazy or not, but of perceived long term interest. Families should take this opportunity to also question the way they work. If they can't win the attention of their children against video games, something has to be wrong.