Kahane, Middaugh, and Evans point out that the bulk of America's discussion about the public consequences of video game play have been mainly moralistic, not rational. Scare-mongers warn of isolated, maladjusted youth failing to engage with our public sphere, while digital media boosters extol technology's equalizing traits, but "the relationship of [video game play] to adolescent development has not been fully explored." These authors purpose to remedy this oversight.
Our authors point out that certain video games, like "SimCity" and "Quest Atlantis," have been used productively in school environments to teach public interest and engage youth in civic engagement and public discourse. By engaging students in intricate simulations of democratic institutions, these games teach youth to care about living issues and real-world concerns. From this, the authors extrapolate that other games which rely on complex relationships with other humans and with technology, like running a guild in World of Warcraft, may teach engagement with democratic institutions. As they say, "the same kinds of experiences that foster civic outcomes in well-controlled classroom studies may achieve similar results in gaming environments."
On the one hand, I have no trouble believing this. My grade school teachers used this same basic claim in explaining why I should play "Oregon Trail" on the Apple IIe. And I can see where guild organization can teach youth to love the social contract just as my generation learned from Student Council elections. On the other hand, our authors haven't yet proven to my satisfaction that, just because kids could possibly learn civic responsibility from games, a sufficient mass of them actually do.
Still, I'm willing to suspend judgment and hear these authors out for two reasons. First, they acknowledge the important role teachers play. Unlike tech cheerleaders who claim the web renders classrooms obsolete, these authors admit that teaching through games requires the concerted involvement of teachers, parents, and game designers. They even spend time on questions of reconciling technology to the classroom, and on teaching parents and teachers what we need to know.
Second, the authors admit the limitations of their own study. Rather than elevating themselves and their conclusions as other studies in this series have done, our authors concede that they have proven correlation without proving cause; that in some cases they have been unable to prove aything statistically significant; and that their biggest discovery is how much research still remains to do. Even if I can't completely get behind all their conclusions, I can appreciate their honesty and admire their rigor. And that more warmly inclines me toward these authors' conclusons.
Perhaps we can best regard this white paper as a prolegomena to future research in a developing field. The authors' last big section discusses several domains still open to new discovery. I look forward to seeing how (and if!) games really do help students' civic education, and how I might incorporate such new discoveries into my own classroom.