Saturday, May 3, 2014

Teaching Social Skills Through Gaming

The “Real” World Flipboard links to an article called “Inventive Games That Teach Kids About Empathy and Social Skills”. Well, my first thought was wow, this seems ironic.  Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that the overuse of gaming and technology is the reason kids struggle to learn and preserve empathy and social skills.  If we would like children to be compassionate and socially adept, why wouldn’t we encourage them to interact with one another rather than a gaming system? I’m glad I read the article though, because there are some interesting and noteworthy points for the use of educational gaming.

Author Tanner Higgin says, “We’re in the midst of a multiplayer video game renaissance that’s bringing people together.”  When I first read this, the term “bringing people together” made me cringe.  I’ve never been in support of video games, especially in the educational realm.  I’m perhaps so anti-gaming that it wouldn’t be uncharacteristic of me to call them soul sucking.  I’m a traditionalist in many respects, even when I recognize that my opinions are quite outdated, and I believe that kids should either be outside playing in nature or playing together, not on some iPad or gaming system.  However, this article points to a transformation in the gaming industry that is a reason to celebrate for purists like myself: if kids are going to play games, we should move away from solitary gaming experiences and instead gear our technologies toward interactivity and collaboration. 
Here is what I need to recognize: a childhood of climbing trees and building forts isn’t a reality anymore for the greater population.
We are in a time of technology and it is silly to be in denial of the fact that kids nowadays are going to play games and use apps.  Parents are going to let kids play games.  Schools are going to incorporate these games into the curriculum.  Why fight these forces when instead we could work with them and improve them? 

Higgin discusses The Social Express, an app that encourages gamers to “navigate common social interactions, follow social cues, and make the appropriate decisions.”  I have to admit, if my (future) child had to play on her phone for any extent of time, this is the kind of game I would like to see her playing.  These efforts among computer programmers and those in the gaming world are for a noble cause.  I am curious, however, if these skills translate from the app to the real world.  Do gamers retain this knowledge and apply it to their daily interactions with their actual friends, teachers, family, and peers? If so, how can we evaluate this? 

I respect these efforts and recognize how advantageous social interactivity games are for the vast majority of the child population that could be playing violent and unconstructive games instead.  For kids who already use apps and play games: awesome.  This is awesome. Ultimately, as a future parent, however, I will encourage my child to go outside, to play with the neighbors, and to get involved in extra-curricular activities.  I won’t rely on a game to teach my children about social cues, about how to behave, and about how to communicate. 

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  1. Here is the URL to another article on games being used to reduce risky behavior:

  2. I do like the tiny question you raise at the outset. If humans can do something perfectly (like teach other humans to be human), why do we look to technology to do it, or to do it better? Is tech about improving our ability to do certain things, or is it about the slow replacement of the human altogether? And how funny to slowly replace humans when it comes to the development of, well, humanity...

  3. I personally am looking forward to the day when we're all uploaded into computers and the need for an archaic practiced or taught 'humanity' revolving around 'appropriate' responses to recognized social cues can be done away with in favor of a greater focus on teaching and learning more practical areas like philosophy, science and crushing the remaining human rebels.


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