Blog: To what extent should teachers be advising parents about whether their children should play Call of Duty? And how might an understanding of a child’s gaming choices help parents and teachers to better co-operate? Journalist/teacher dual-classer Kyle MacKinnon recounts his own experiences…
“Who are you to tell me how to raise my kid?” says the father of one of my fourth grade students, scoffing at me from across the table. Let’s call him Mr Scott. “You’re just a kid,” he adds.
Mr Scott is replying to my suggestion that mature-rated videogames perhaps wouldn’t be the most appropriate entertainment for his nine-year-old child. But he’s right, of course. Relatively speaking, I’m just a kid too.
So, who am I to tell him how to raise his son?
After some university preparation on my part, and a month of adjusting to a return to school by my students, it was time for my first day back to school in a new role: that of teacher. A cursory inspection of my classroom later, I waited in the staff room until my supervisor was ready to introduce me to my new class. In the meantime, I consumed far more coffee than any human should.
The time had come. A vague introduction as to who the stranger was standing in front of the buzzing children was issued. I took in a lot of information: there were nearly 30 students present, representing a range of social classes and ethnicities. More than this, I noticed that nearly every student had something videogame-related on their person.
Three brands dominated their school supplies and clothing: Pokemon, Mario, and Angry Birds. But somewhat more surprisingly, two boys were wearing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 t-shirts.
180 hours is a long time. That’s more than a week consecutively. It’s also the amount of time I spend with students in a single month (and doesn’t account for the amount of time spent lesson planning, evaluating, in meetings, etc). Needless to say, that’s ample time to learn the ins and outs of my students.
I used what I observed on the very first day in front of the class – that many students had videogame swag – to build a connection with the kids. But first, I wanted to know what they were playing.
I employed exit slips to figure out what my students were playing. Exit slips are a great way of getting feedback from students as well as gaining some semblance of control over them before they storm out into the hallways. Basically, before a student is allowed to leave at the end of the day, teachers ask them to give a simple response to a question, which could be anything from class review (“Who is the leader of our country?”) to personal (“What did you do at the weekend?”).
My question was: “What is your favourite videogame?”
My colleagues wondered why I was asking about ‘Nintendos’. For them, videogames were long ago written off as simple playthings. I saw something more.
18 of 25 students fit into a nice theme of three games. Unsurprisingly, given that I’m in Canada, the NHL games were among the most popular, coming in at third. Angry Birds was the single most popular game, with seven of my students naming it. But the Call of Duty franchise was the second most popular.
And I noticed another theme the students whose behaviour proved most problematic all named Call of Duty as their favourite game.
I repeated the survey with my two other classes, who I see only a couple of times a week. The results were similar in both cases: Angry Birds was the overall most popular game from my students, and the most problematic students to deal with named Call of Duty as their game series of choice.
When I’m not teaching, I’m a freelance writer covering videogames, so I’m no stranger to the constant claims that violent gaming create violent criminals. Having covered countless violent videogames, I’m glad to report that I’ve yet to commit any violent crimes. Before going into education, I unequivocally deemed any correlation between videogame violence and real-world behaviour to be nonsense.
I’ve sort of re-evaluated my stance.
Videogames are a major part of modern culture and, as such, it makes sense that when consumed, videogames make an impact on one’s cultural understanding. To definitely link the students who made offensive gun gestures in the midst of a Remembrance Day ceremony to playing too much Call of Duty, or the student who called my support staff a ‘bitch’ after playing through Arkham City, would be fallacious. But that’s not to say we should ignore any patterns we observe.
The root cause of misbehaviour is multifaceted. Bullies aren’t simply mean people; they often suffer from their own issues at home or elsewhere. Violent games aren’t necessarily the cause of misbehaviour, but they can serve as an indicator of other things.
In my experience, there is a range of attitudes toward videogames from parents. There are no hard-and-fast rules determining who possesses which attitude – they can be young, old, single or married, but their gaming views don’t especially follow a pattern. However, where children are distant from their parents, violent videogames often seem to find their way into a child’s life.
For instance, a child whose parents’ work conflicts with their child’s schedule is often more likely to be playing such games. This could mean the parent works the night shift or even travels a lot. Their explanation when speaking with me is that they wish to make their son or daughter happy. To them, censorship is less important.
Mr Scott leers at me. He spends the majority of his time working in the oil fields in Northern Alberta. He was home for a week before returning to his work camp, and tracking him down to speak with him about his child’s behaviour was difficult. Now that I’ve finally done so, he’s flipped the situation around, and he’s questioning me on my qualifications to help him raise his child.
So I form a response.
“I don’t doubt your abilities to raise your child,” I begin. “But you and I both are part of the problem. For you, being more engaged in what your son consumes will help you bond with him even more in the time you have together. And for teachers? We need to become better equipped to talk about new technology and the role it plays in shaping our children. Teachers and parents are in this together.”
There’s a pause that feels like it lasts a lifetime. Then I win my first victory as a teacher. Mr Scott stands up and, earnestly, shakes my hand.