Video Games: New Art and Education for the 21st Century

This week airing on most of our PBS stations is an episode featuring Pete Parsons, the Chief Operating Officer for the video game maker Bungie. Our conversation is about their latest game, Destiny, published by Activision, which already has 9.5 million unique online players daily.

Our discussion focuses on the philosophical and sociological underpinnings of the game and how it resembles many of the same issues we face in life.

Plus, if we peer deeper into the world of video games we see how this field is becoming the newest art form of our time. Moreover, if we dial the microscope up a notch we can also see how it can aid in one of the most important issues our society faces - the improvement of our educational system. In addition to this, we just might shatter the misconceived myths about the culture of gaming.

First, I must confess that I am not a "Gamer." However, my sons, daughter-in-law and almost all their friends are into some form of video gaming and have since they first held a controller in their tiny hands.

My youngest son, who is a film maker and works with me on my show and this blog, was the first to suggest I explore the world of video games, especially in regards to their story telling and cinematic art form, which is reaching new levels of sophistication and excellence.

My oldest son, who has an M.A. in Education and is the Coordinator of Curriculum and Technology for a public school system, is also very involved in developing the use of  "Gamification" in education. Gamification is the process of using game mechanics and game thinking in non-gaming contexts to engage users and to solve problems.

Now, just to reassure you, although my sons and their friends are avid gamers, they are also avid readers and enjoy many forms of expression from dance to music to film and almost all genres within each medium. 
In fact, even the Smithsonian is getting into the act. A recent exhibit titled: The Art of Video Games, explored the evolution of video games as an artistic medium especially in the relationship between the technology, art and the narrative form of storytelling.

In Destiny, the game featured on the show this week, our discussion's focus is not only on the art and story, but on the importance of collaboration. In fact, without real time teamwork amongst players it is impossible to reach the highest levels of the game.

So if you think that video games are a major cause of violence or a passive couch potato vice, it is time to reevaluate and realize that this form of entertainment might soon become one of our highest forms of art and education.

I have personally witnessed the advantage that my own children have experienced (both of them are well adjusted, sociable, and good men - despite my obvious bias). 
The more I feature video games on the show - the first time was my conversation with Neil Druckmann and his creation The Last of Us - the more I too see how they are an amazing art form and potential tool for expanding our minds.
Yes, too much of anything, and I MEAN anything, is not a panacea for anything. But, it is time to vanquish the fears of this technological art and embrace the benefits.

Educator, game theorist and designer James Portnow credits video games with creating a sense of agency: that choices really matter in life, and that failure after failure is often the path to real learning, achievement and an overall life experience of success.

And, as my guest this week so eloquently states:

It's that unpredictable human element that creates the most important moments.

-Pete Parsons-

So fear not humans. The machines are not taking over. We are learning how to better use them for our own education, artistic expression and entertainment.

Enjoy the show and the game of life,