Saturday, January 06, 2007


Boris opens his mouth again

Recently Boris Johnson has blamed videogames on poor literacy.

Firstly where does he get his evidence? It seems probably that he is basing this simply on that he sees some children who like to play, and get absorbed, by videogames. And he sees that literacy rates are falling and he makes a massive assumption based on his own prejudices and ignorance of videogames. Still, what more can we expect from a 'Conservative'.

Simply because the UK has the highest console ownership per household in the UK does not mean that this is a credible link to falling literacy rates. I would expect the UK to have the highest proportion of tea-drinkers in the EU - but I wouldn't blame this on the price of fish. There has always been a reaction to new technology and social trends - radio, film, TV, rock music, the internet etc which have in their time been whipping boys for the social issues of society. In my experience, those who don’t grow up with the particular thing they are complaining against, normally hold these reactionary views.

Kids, along with their parents, have many distractions these days. Should parents remove televisions, computers, CD players, DVD players, ipods, and mobile phones along with videogame consoles? Maybe their rooms should be Spartan and only have selected approved classics neatly placed for them to read? I grew up with videogames and I also enjoyed reading books as kid. It is possible to do both. No doubt reading does encourage literacy along with imagination. Apparently some academics in the late 19th and early 20th century hoped reading of literacy would encourage the masses to have 'sensibility' and intelligence to replace the falling belief in religion. Fat chance there as can be demonstrated by the World Wars, which was started by nations with high literacy rates.

At the end of the day we should know that something maybe purely educational and something maybe purely entertaining but most things are somewhere along the middle. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with enjoying a hobby, which is mainly entertaining if it doesn't harm others. Unlike television and books, videogames are primarily a two-way interactive experience, which can be valuable in itself. Videogames, on the whole, are imaginative in that they take players to other worlds and situations where the choices they make count. This can include solving puzzles, dexterity and so forth.

To improve literacy we should look instead at our schools and at parenting. In my experience at a comprehensive school in the 80s, literacy wasn't pushed particularly and wasn't made interesting enough. Politicians continually spout about the importance of the three Rs but why do they continually fail to ensure that this is put in place? I would say Thatcher, Major and Blair have done more to damage literacy rates in their failed policies than Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have ever done. Over the last thirty years there seems to preference for empathy, group learning and coursework teaching methods instead of traditional competitive methods such as learning by rote, book reading and exams. Secondly parents do need to read to their kids when they are young and help them with their homework and regulate their kids recreational and homework time. So yes, that does mean 'regulating' playing videogames (especially if their kid are playing for 8 hours a day!) but that includes the other modern distractions I have mentioned.

To say the answer to improve literacy rates is to pull out the Nintendo is simply knee-jerk and ill conceived.

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