Last week, we mentioned a LiveScience article checking out the educational uses of WoW; in my never-ending attempt to catch up from a weekend off, there's another article (this one from the New York Times) on the links between gaming and literacy in kids. It's a decently balanced piece, from the skeptics to the supporters, and it tackles a selection of current issues and future possibilities for the medium:
... doubtful teachers and literacy experts question how effective it is to use an overwhelmingly visual medium to connect youngsters to the written word. They suggest that while a handful of players might be motivated to pick up a book, many more will skip the text and go straight to the game. Others suggest that video games detract from the experience of being wholly immersed in a book.
Some researchers, though, say that even when children don't read much text, they are picking up skills that can help them thrive in a visually oriented digital world. And some educational experts suggest that video games still stimulate reading in blogs and strategy guides for players.
To be sure, some of the experiments pairing electronic games with books will be little more than marketing gimmicks. But publishers and authors suggest that some projects may push creative boundaries, helping to extend storytelling beyond the traditional covers of a book.
I'm not sure WoW et al. are the best examples of compelling story lines that approximate literature, and some of the library-driven initiatives don't exactly seem to encourage "traditional" literacy (having seen plenty of students happily sleeping in university libraries, it takes more than just getting them in the door). Still, as James Paul Gee notes in the article, there are issues beyond "pick up a book and read it" that games can teach; critical thinking skills, for example, have rarely served anyone wrong. Besides, one never knows where video games will lead — one of the best and brightest in my department recently confessed that a Romance of the Three Kingdoms game is what started his interest in China.