Gaming, Ethics, and the Role of Teachers

As the coach of one of the country's largest middle school speech and debate teams, I come across various moments that one should define as "unethical," but that somehow continue to occur in many competitive events.
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So recently, Kotaku reported via The Daily Dot that a high level League of Legends player was a hired gun for other account holders. In other words, he would control a player's character to level it up, and for that, the player paid him cash.

For those who don't know, League of Legends is a superhero-themed RPG game that many of our students play. It's fun and, dare I say, collaborative, because you have to form leagues in order to battle other players.

The report focuses on this whiz of a guy who pimped out his talents in order to help other players Level Up. But I couldn't help but wonder: where was the report on the consequences, not for the entrepreneurial young man who sold his digital expertise to a willing bidder, but to the player who hired him? Is he not the one who is trying to pass himself off as having accomplished so much more than he had?


This story relates to an issue I encountered once at a local speech and debate tournament.

As the coach of one of the country's largest middle school speech and debate teams, I come across various moments that one should define as "unethical," but that somehow continue to occur in many competitive events. At a tournament I was auditing, I learned that a particular debater traded his League of Legends high-level account for a binder of debate-related research in order to help him argue his side of a particular debate. Who told me about this? His indifferent coach.

I naturally asked, in a somewhat loaded manner, what the ethics were about someone else doing the research for a competing student. The coach shrugged with, "There are no rules against it." Really? Did we really need rules spelled out requiring a competitor's work to be their own? Clearly we did.

We always hear about "kids these days." And, sure, it's the kids that are ultimately responsible for their own academic and ethical behavior. But where are the adults in this debate?

At best, it might be due to a lack of knowledge. Many parents simply don't know enough about the digital realm of a game like League of Legends or might lack knowledge of their students many accounts. At worst, it's a deliberate shrugging off of our duty as ethical role models. As in the case of the debate coach, the unethical decision wasn't condemned the minute it was discovered. The fact that it involved an online game surely muddied the waters in the mind of the coach.

But just as a child is not born knowing to say, "thank you," it is also not born knowing to take pride in its own accomplishments. Sure a kid might discover the feeling of accomplishment themselves, and try to seek that feeling again, but even those kids who are naturally accomplished are going to look for ways to walk that path easily, and it's up to adults to put the meridian on the road on which they walk.


So what can teachers do to encourage more ethical digital behavior in our students since other stakeholders seem to be falling asleep at the PlayStation steering wheel?

1. Don't ignore the digital world in which our students exist. Teachers can't ignore what the kids are playing in their free time just because they don't want to be involved. It's our job to be a voice in their heads when they are tempted to "The Dark Side." We need to embrace and leverage our students' activities in order to help them swim through the sea of tech with strong strokes.

2. Honor the tech standards like they are your own content area standards. I know teachers who hold up their hand when you start discussing the national standards for technology because they feel it isn't literature, geometry, world history or whatever. But the fact is that tech standards ARE related to our content areas. Why? Because the Almighty Google has access to all the content, and we are now tasked to help students research and curate. That has become the core of our Common Core.

3. Use tools to help you find teachable moments. Use TurnItIn or Plagtracker to help catch those students who are straying from a more ethical path.

4. Establish norms from the get-go. While anti-plagiarism programs are meant to help catch students, I find it's much more effective to establish norms from the beginning of the year. State WHY it's not OK to behave unethically online. Don't assume students know already.

5. Celebrate Effort and Growth Honor risk-takers. Brush off failures as mere first steps towards success. Ensure students know that helping them improve is the main part of your job. Tell them that their growth is only something you can do with them, hand-in-hand, and that you can't do it if they are not being honest about their level of work.

6. Teach Respect for Other People's Work Help students recognize trademarks and copyrights. The best way to do that is to have them copyright their own work. Introduce them to and Choose a License for their own digital portfolio or website. By communicating how they want to see their own work used by others, they will learn more respect for the symbols and language others have chosen to represent their original work.


Of course, despite these steps, there is only so much we can do alone. Parents and coaches have to stand with us to face this enemy together. We can't want students to win so much that we turn a blind eye to the ethics of a child's journey. We can't raise kids who live Machiavelli's tenant, "The ends justify the means." It'll bite us in the butt, and some might argue it already has.

But if we want to raise a citizenry of ethical adults, we have to be an active part in raising a generation of ethical kids. We can't let even the slightest ethical sag go without comment. We can't let poor choices, which all students make every once and a while, go by without stating our disappointment, even if the students win or they get away with it.

After all, leveling up in games does not mean that you'll level up in life.

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