Michael Soldati’s recommendation for gaming in after school programs.

To whom it may concern,
    I’m writing on behalf of Mia Hulslander whom to my knowledge has requested 2 Nintendo Wii’s for the purpose of after school programming for Elementary School aged children, a request that has been denied.  I am writing to you today to ask you to rethink this decision and I will outline a number of reasons why it is important to have Video Games as a part of your afterschool programs.  First allow me to identify myself, my name is Michael M. Soldati, I am an Americorps VISTA working at the Keene Public Library, specifically within the youth department.  I specialize in gaming and 21st Century skills, and provide a number of afterschool programs for the youth in the Keene area.  Throughout my year of service I have been conducting a great deal of research on the pros and cons to video games and the place that they are inevitably taking in our education and our daily life, about which, I recently gave a speech to the Keene Kiwanis Club.  Additionally I put on a weekly Open Play Game Day in which we provide games, board games, card games and video games alike for anyone to play at their leisure.  I can assure you it is an incredibly positive experience for all involved, promotes comradery amongst players and keeps children engaged in meaningful ways and off the streets.  However I would like to outline in detail some ways in which having a video game program can be of the utmost importance.
    One of the things that is probably already incorporated into your program is Healthy NH’s 5,2,1,0 campaign in which we ask four simple tasks of our youth and those working with youth: 
5  Fruits and vegetables…more mattersEat fruits and vegetables at least 5 times a day.  Limit 100% fruit juice. 
2  Cut screen time to 2 hours or less a day.
1  Participate in at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
0  Restrict soda and sugar-sweetened sports and fruit drinks.  Instead, drink water and 3-4 servings/day of fat-free/skim or 1% milk.”
    Now if we look at the “2: Cut screen time to 2 hours or less a day” we immediately begin to think that having screen time in a program is obviously going to work counter to this idea.  On the contrary, having screen time within the context of an afterschool program puts the screen time within the control of the youth program worker.  Here screen time can be monitored for content, it can, instead of a “waste of time,” be used for productive and educational purposes, and third it can be used to promote a healthy habit of 2 hours (or less) of screen time, rather than going unchecked in an unproductive manner for countless hours, perhaps leading, in a worst case scenario to screen addiction.  This is perhaps the clearest example as to how your program can benefit from having video games.  However I can assure you there are a great deal more.
    Today’s world is evolving at a rate that has never been seen before, what is state-of-the-art technology today is already obsolete by tomorrow.  While older generations not native to this digital culture must constantly assimilate themselves in the next newest “thing” this is a natural progression for our youth.  It is important that these “digital natives” have the proper guidance and support in utilizing technology to their advantage rather than ignoring the situation or, what’s worse, writing these things off as mindless entertainment.  Video games have a valuable place in our society that has, as of yet, gone largely unexplored.  It is actually a much more engaging educational environment than can be found in our classrooms, as often video games can present the same types of problems or puzzles that can be found in a math, science, english or history class.  Moreover video games help to increase our level of “Information Literacy.”  Information Literacy defined by the American College and Research Libraries (ACRL) is as follows “Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” Basically Information Literacy is the basis for lifelong learning, or the “teach a man how to fish” so that he never goes hungry.  Video games with their endless variety of interfaces and objectives, formats and controls, require gamers to constantly rework their thinking for each and every new game, new game console or computer, a knowledge which lends itself well to understanding the way any new technology functions.  For example: have you ever purchased a new TV that came with a new remote?  How quickly were you able to learn and operate that new remote vs. your child.  I’m willing to bet that your child can probably navigate your TV remote with ten times more accuracy and speed- in the dark, then you may be able to with the lights on.  This may seem minute at first glance but put it in the context of such a rapidly accelerating world as our own and it begins to make a little more sense.
    Part of the problem you might find yourself contending with is the overabundance of violence in video games, which is certainly a real problem.  Additionally many games may seem only to promote lazy behavior and disengaged, closeted members of society, which I assure you is not the case.  Fortunately in today’s game world the Nintendo Wii exists as a family-friendly, cross-generational, gender-unbiased, productive and social gaming console.  Games like Wii Fit, Wii Fit Plus and EA Active actually have fun workout programs to help keep you in shape (which could help in Healthy NH’s 1 hour of physical activity).  Games like Wii Sports, Mario Party 8 and Boom Blox Bash Party provide wonderful social activities where the focus is not so much on the screen as on the interactions and fun to be had as a group.  Games like Big Brain Academy and Brain Age are made specifically to keep the mind fit, flexible and improve brain power.  Additionally the more traditional “Gamer games” like Super Smash Bros Brawl for example, while a fighting game, comprises of only cartoon violence- akin to an episode of Looney Toons- where you seek not to “kill” an opponent, but to send them flying off of a platform to determine the winner.  These games can be used to foster a healthy “Screen Time” environment that gets kids excited, in a social atmosphere having fun while learning (though they might not know it themselves.)  Additionally between our harsh economic times coupled with consoles that demand more bucks for their bang the Nintendo Wii is comparitively inexpensive, and works on any TV with an RCA input (or you can purchase an RCA/Cable adapter, or just hook it up through your DVD player) without compromising graphics or sound, and yet still delivers.

    If you’re still not convinced that video games are an important part of our youth’s education know this: it already is.  Adults typically look down on and discourage video game use, which can prove quite conflicting for a child.  Video games are treasured pastimes of the youth generations.  When we devalue what our youth value we are not only devaluing video games, but the gamers themselves, because these digital natives identify their actual selves so well with their digital identities, which manifest on the internet and in video games, what’s worse is that they can begin to associate their society’s negative connotation of video games with themselves.  And, rather than dismissing the devalued video games, they carry on, with a notion that though they may love and enjoy video games, they’re really only wasting their time.  This can prove to be incredibly destructive to a child’s mental health.  Imagine what might have happened to you if as a child you were told that some of your favorite pass times or hobbies were complete wastes of time.  It is only fair that we show our youth the same respect we would want shown to our own passions.  Often times difficulties with understanding gamer culture can arise from an inability to perform; parents whom picked up the controller once, felt uncomfortable, and failed with the classic “game over” screen and put down the controller forever.  I can tell you right now that our youth fail just as much, and yet time and time again when met with this same “game over” message they press “continue” and try their hardest to beat that next level, time and time again.  It is something they begin to take pride in, and it is unfair to rob them of this sense of pride.  All the more so when adults turn down youth at their game, they may trounce you 9 times out of 10, maybe even 10 times out of 10, but adults need to look beyond their own insecurity on the subject to see that they’ve got a focused and engaged youth that is trying harder and harder each time whom smiles and laughs, and feels good because they feel empowered, because for the first time in their life they can beat the authoritative adult at something, anything, and to a child of any age, that is a strong and encouraging message.

I’ve included a list of informative links on the subject of gaming and technology in today’s world below.  If you have any questions please contact me at the Keene Public Library at 603-352-0157 or by e-mail at Msoldati@ci.keene.nh.us

     Michael M. Soldati

Americorps VISTA
Keene Public Library
60 Winter St.
Keene, NH 03431

http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency.cfm  ACRL’s Information Literacy Standards

http://www.gamesinlibraries.org/course/  Online course on games in the library, but can easily translate to an afterschool program environment

http://www.gamesinlibraries.org/course/?p=62   this one relates specifically to the ACRL Standards

http://www.gamesinlibraries.org/  Multiple podcasts and discussions on gaming

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/08/15/video_games_and_aggression/ an inconclusive study on the effects of violence in video games


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s