In theory I should love the games on tablets and smartphones. Compared to the 8 bit games I grew up with the graphics are light years better. With touch screens there is in theory more mobility than the up, down, left, right limitations on the NES platform I flew up with. There are certainly more genres available than when I started gaming. I should be thrilled with the portability of mobile games. As a kid I had to drag an entire book bag worth or gear to my grandparents if I wanted to play Tecmo Bowl or Double Dribble.
Maybe I’m just getting old and nostalgic but I just can’t seem to enjoy most mobile or tablet based games.
I think it comes down to two reasons. Both I think have classroom implications.
1. There no tactile feel.
In an effort to overcome the nostalgia gap I downloaded a Nintendo emulator onto my Android. If I couldnt find a game that I liked maybe I could play one I knew I liked on my phone. I was hoping this would be something of a gateway drug. If I could get into playing some of these old Nintendo games on a free download then I might move up to one of the paid ports like Final Fantasy VII for the mobile. I fired up the emulator and was thrilled to find one of my childhood favorites- Tecmo Superbowl!
The game was recreated perfectly. The graphics were exactly what I remembered. The teams were all there. The play calling system was spot on. Everything was correct… but the game wasn’t fun. I could not get into the game because I couldn’t “feel” the game. On the NES the controller was simple. Directional D-pad on the left and A and B buttons on the right.
The player could feel where their hands where – could feel when their fingers were slipping, could feel up and down or the click of a properly hit A button. The smooth tablet face left many of my plays in ruin because my left thumb was just a little to far to the left to move my character up and away from a defender. Or I ony hit the B button twice instead of three times as I cycled through my receivers leading to a dumb interception. There was a tactile feel missing.
Do we do this to our students? I know I have to fight against lessons that have students staring at a screen all day. I have grown past the idea if learning types and do believe that there is not really a kinesthetic type versus a visual type of learner; however I have felt the magic of touching a 200 year old letter written from a husband in the Caribbean to a wife in New Jersey. I have seen my sons eyes grow wide when he touched an actual cannon and ball at Fort Sumter. There is a tactile connection that often goes missing in the classroom – especially as many classes are or have become virtual experiences due to the COVID Pandemic.
there is also something to the notion that young people need to move around. When this covid year began I knew it was going to be difficult because even when kids returned to classes they were going to be isolated 6 feet apart behind masks. Later it turned into literal plexiglass cubicles. As a History teacher I am always trying to find ways to get students moving a little bit. Get them activating their bodies as well as their minds. The stereotypical 60 minute lecture with sit-and-get notetaking and then drill-and-kill review might have short term impact but is a long term loss. This is a dead practice.
2. Capitalism run a muck.
Years ago I had a colleague that fell hard for Candy Crush. It became something of an inside joke that when she met someone at a conference we were attending that she would ask her new acquaintances to send her Candy Crush lives. You see, the game had a mechanic that would give a player a limited number of fails before they had to wait X number of minutes to play the game again – that is unless they either paid the game real world money to buy more tries (lives) or got a game friend to send them more lives.
There were two deviously capitalistic tricks at work here. Either the addicted Candy Crusher would pony up the dough to keep playing or they would become grassroots marketers for the game itself. Candy crush took their money or if they were unable to do that they received free advertising. If the person that the candy crush player was harassing for more lives didn’t have the game downloaded the player could argue that there was no harm in the free download. Once in the games clutches the new game’s data was given to the company, they were subjected to advertisements, and – best yet – if they liked the game the cycle continued.
All these mobile app games have some mechanic designed to bleed the player of money through either direct cash payments or a barrage of advertisements. Sometimes the ads are direct (watch this ad before you can start the game) and some are diabolically manipulative (watch this ad for 100 virtual game bucks!) Then there are the loot boxes, the game crates, the gold, the gems, the v-bucks. It’s all just a manipulative tool to separate the player from their cash. This problem is not unique to mobile games – I wrote Fortnite Lessons: V-Bucks and Weaponized Social Fun after all- but it seems to be more pronounced in mobile games. It is possible that I run into this problem more because I am frugal and refuse to pay for apps. I guess it’s possible that the free games barrage players with these money grabs because they need the revenue. (Yes, I’m also aware that I have ads on this post.)
How does this connect to the classroom?
Obviously we should be asking for cash from students but all teachers have a built in “currency system”. The students have been trained to know that teachers hand out grades in exchanged for completed work. Students won’t have the language for this but they understand piece-work factory systems. Many classrooms have implicit rules that “if student does homework, then they get X Grade”. Don’t do the assignment then you don’t get paid. The grade means everything for the student. Teachers horde the grades and students need to work for the grade. Want recess? do your work. Want to go on the side quest? Oh, you need to get this required assignment done first. Want to play that cool Tablet game? Only students with X grade are allowed to – you need to get this done first.
If we treat grades as a currency then it should be no surprise when we get the “grade grubber” students that beg for extra credit work. We shouldn’t be surprise when we have students that cheat to get a better grade. We should expect some students to opt out when they realize that the currency really doesn’t have any value. The capitalistic view of school removes the incentive to learning. Also, we spend so much time talking about relationship building and respect and making school a transactional system of work and payment then all of that effort and rhetoric are wasted.
I don’t like mobile games.
I can’t find much to apply to the classroom other than a list of “try not to’s”
Maybe you can find some redeeming messages?
I’d love to know – throw something in the comments!