It’s the year 2000. I’m sitting in my Year 8 history class back in Essex, England, studying Ancient Rome and its achievements. The teacher then hits us, unsolicited, with a proposal that we were not expecting…
‘The film ‘Gladiator’ is out. A very accurate piece of cinema in my view. I suggest you go and see it.’
I’ll spare you details as to my age at the time, but needless to say I was younger than the 15 year age limit the film demanded. Sneak in I did not, but the fact that my teacher even suggested that we should has always stuck with me. Gladiator must have been (at least in his eyes) a truly accurate rendition of the era that was also an exceptional piece of cinematography; a solid plot, a superb cast, and enough blood and gore for your average 13 year old (whoops).
It must have been, in other words, worth the risk.
In Hong Kong’s LEGCO recent budget, they announced an enormous $50 billion additional investment to the Innovation and Technology Fund, or ITF. With the majority earmarked for R&D projects and the development of existing facilities at the Science Park and Cyberport, there was also a nod to another emerging industry: esports.
In a 2017 LEGCO report, it was clear the region would be turning its attention to the gaming and esports markets, announcing millions of dollars of funding aimed at engaging, developing and bringing to maturity an industry presently hamstrung by underinvestment and misconceptions as to its potential value. But this newly confirmed funding is a sign that things are changing.
I propose an even more radical change. I see this as a chance to bring computer games, and all the great things they contain, into the classroom.
While writing that last sentence, I could hear the proverbial ‘tuts’ and see the proverbial eyerolls. I’m not naïve. Computer games are regular recipients of scorn and derision amongst teachers and parents alike. Aside from serving as a carrot as opposed to a stick when it comes to coercing students to study, they see very little value in the hobby of gaming. They are more inclined to see it as in some way harmful to their child’s health or learning, relying on the studies of 90’s and 00’s that claimed to show correlations between gaming and any number of ills – from attention deficit disorders to violent outbursts and worse.
Games back then were in an infancy of their own. Children can be a nightmare when they are young: excitable, pent up balls of energy that have an inexhaustible curiosity, completely unaware of the trouble they cause. But eventually, they grow up. The gaming industry of the 90’s was itself an infant, lacking focus, skill or precision, but attempting everything nonetheless. What else could explain the genesis of games like Grand Theft Auto, that were fun purely because of the 2-dimensional chaos that you could cause.
The 00’s saw games grow up somewhat. Mario was still on the scene – Nintendo always has been the proud embracers of an adults’ inner kid – but Sonic was gone, and games based around gore and carnage were, by and large, shunned. If they didn’t improve themselves in some way, either through graphics, playability or storyline, then they would be buried in a deep desert grave somewhere in New Mexico with the other lacklustre gaming efforts before them.
But they did mature, in a sense. The characters in games were more fleshed out; the visuals exploited the larger CPU’s, GPU’s and memory available; and the originality that was always possible bubbled to the surface. Even fighting games like Tekken or Streetfighter, once found at the back of some shadowy arcade, started making compelling character profiles and back stories. Meanwhile, games like ‘Primal Rage’, that focused on dinosaurs and King Kong-esque apes beating each other to death were no longer interesting.
Other titles like Call of Duty carried the genre towards industry wide prominence. Making use of the emerging interconnectivity of players in cooperative missions, it dispelled the idea that videogames were only made for recluses. A social aspect wormed its way into the format, and it was transformative.
GTA went another way, choosing to keep the carnage, but provided a convincing and immersive narrative that could justify it. When Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released, gamers were instantly on side. The characters, tasks and experiences in it were hilarious and absorbing in equal measure, and the radio stations that served up classic 70’s and 80’s tunes made those car thefts even more enjoyable. (And many people listen to the vice city playlist on their Spotify…as do I).
A turning point
I don’t mean to wax poetic about games, but I feel I must. In many parents minds their very mention still conjures up an image of the couch-ridden slob who spends his girlfriendless hours getting RSI from repeatedly beating the buttons of his controller.
This is a medium greatly misunderstood and disturbingly underutilised in other areas of our lives. Now that the government has made the first move, I feel that educators in traditional schools must react to take advantage of the potential benefits that the new focus on esports and gaming could bring.
Hong Kong could be the first
As with any change of direction, there are many questions around how one would go about doing this in sensible, productive way. The practical limitations, for example, are real: not all schools have the space or funding to bring such facilities into being, and expecting parents to provide the hardware in the same way they provide new Macbook Pros as a requirement of their child’s international school studies would be a near impossible sell.
Teachers may also be unfamiliar with the medium. Computer game training is not a part of any PGCE programme I’ve heard of, and not necessarily something they would encounter on their own. There is as yet no training as to how they could be employed, and if you have never used them before, you would perhaps shy away from bringing them into lessons you are otherwise well-versed in.
Then there is the lack of any real catalogue. No one has taken the time to sift through the titles that are out there to find those that best complement existing subject subjects, syllabuses or year groups. This would itself be a massive undertaking.
And of course, there are issues with respect to parental guidance certificates and adjudicating age appropriateness, the inability to edit out controversial content and the ultimate lack of information as to the approaches overall effectiveness.
It all raises concerns. But this is placing the inconvenience of testing it out above the potential benefits that such an insertion of gaming into syllabuses could bring.
I believe Hong Kong should have more conviction on this matter. Our territory already has exceptional educational standards. 5 of our Universities now rank in the top 100 in a recent report from QS World University Rankings. The entire education system was in the top 10 in the 2017 World Best Education Systems 1st Quarterly Report. We have a strong and stable network of supplementary education services available for reinforcement. This is an area in which Hong Kong could – and should – be a pioneer.
So let’s be brave. Let’s bring together the developers, the teachers, the politicians and the students and see if, together, we can capitalise on this chance for the mutual benefit of both the gaming and education sectors.
Cicero Group Limited