A COMPUTER game where you blast away monsters from another dimension in a desperate attempt to escape the results of an experiment gone wrong, does not appear to be the most improving of games for youngsters.
But new research suggests that, far from being harmful, computer games such as Half Life can teach pupils more than ICT lessons at school.
Julia Gillen and Nigel Hall of Manchester Metropolitan University argue that the typical image of computer games as bloodthirsty and anti-social does not tell the whole story and that they can involve "high calibre learning".
The academics examined the activities of two 11-year-old boys building a new "level" for Half Life, which involves the player taking the role of a scientist trying to fight his way out of a monster-infested research laboratory.
They found that the task involved problem-solving skills, encouraged the children to use different resources such as the Internet and fostered a willingness to persist in a task in the face of obstacles. "Gaming isn't only about conflict and violence - games can have creative elements as well. Half Life is a good example but it isn't the only one," said Dr Gillen.
She said that the design programme was similar to CAD (computer aided design) programmes used by architects. "It would be impossible for primary schools to teach them to that level," she added.
Although avoiding any direct criticism of teachers, she believes that more could be done in ICT lessons to develop the skills young people learn through gaming.
"It is very difficult and challenging for teachers to work with children whose skills are beyond their own. It is tempting to only give them a closed task, but if you only give children tasks with one answer than they can't move beyond that. I would like to see them given more opportunities to engage in open-ended activities," she said.
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