So I Bought a Video Game

This event was met with mild interest by my nine-year-old niece until she realized it didn’t come with a corresponding Wii.  I’ve read about the value of computery games, and I know that the masses of DS-toting fifth graders who learn in my classroom make gaming a part of their daily lives.  So after a tremendous amount of foot-dragging, I purchased Zoo Tycoon 2 last week. 

Yes, I know, not very “sexy” as games go–but I have to start somewhere, right?  And I’m just not into virtually killing things or chasing after gold coins spinning in the air or whatever.  Those sorts of games will have to remain spectator sports for me.  As it was, I was fairly sure that even if I could figure out how to play this zoo thing, I wouldn’t actually like it.

Seven days later, I’ve probably logged in 15-20 hours creating my kick-butt zoo that is actually making quite a tidy profit, thankyouverymuch!  The day I loaded the software onto my computer I spent almost four straight hours glued to my computer, and when I finally snapped out of the fog of learning to organize virtual zoo exhibits and place adequate restrooms for my little electronic patrons, I had muscle cramps in my hand and backside from stiffly clicking away like a nut.

I sort of get it, now.  No doubt I felt invested in my work, proud of my accomplishments, determined to fix my failures…and boy was I learning.  Mostly learning the game, but still learning.  But I wondered whether the average 10-year-old would be as interested in building a zoo (or roller coaster or any of the other tycoon-ish games) as I was. 

This is fundamentally different from ninja-kicking or car-stealing…or is it?  I sat through a session at BLC 2007 in which Marc Prensky browbeat the audience a bit for our digital immigrancy and I read one of his books, so I feel like I should “get” this more.  Is the point problem-solving, whether it is combat-based quests or crafting the most attractive penguin pool?  Maybe.  Either way, do video-gaming kids (or adults) adopt skills that translate into non-virtual environments (aka reality)?  If a kid spends time daily for years learning to try again after a failure in her/his video-gaming, will that same perseverance extend to math assignments or riding a horse or finding a job?

So I bought a video game (sort of) and I think I understand what makes this activity generally attractive (sort of) and I can see some potential for useful learning…sort of.  Oops!  The zebras have knocked down their fence and are loose in the family picnic area–gotta go.