PLN Day 44: Call of Duty, Halo, and partying with middle-schoolers

25 02 2010

My good buddy’s middle-school aged son plays multiplayer video games a lot.  I’m going to disguise his name, because it’s a small world.

It’s been a source of tension in the household, actually, with K— sneaking out and partying with his friends online in the middle of the night.  That lead to his video games being removed from his bedroom and put in his basement.  I said I’d never played video games like this socially, and would love to try it out.

K— was amped.  He actually seemed like he’d been waiting for some sort of adult validation in this.  It was like he was saying, I thought you’d never ask.  Once upon a time, I taught him how to throw a lacrosse ball, and last Friday night he invited me to his friends XBox party — actually “party” is a mode on the XBox — and we put on the headsets and I heard six of his best middle school buddies talking, really, about all kinds of things, about which games were cool, who was “such a fag,” their teacher who “is having her period all the time,” and then K— introduced me to his friend B——, who greeted me by asking, “are you the predator?”

I thought, that’s pretty good awareness.  You hear a 37-year-old’s voice, you run for the hills.  I turned to K—, said, “Predator? Does he think I’m a child molester?”

But no, K— says, he’s gaming on who-knows-what game and some avatar (holding a Predator missile, or riding a Predator, I don’t know what) is hunting him.  He wants to know if that’s me.  I, meanwhile, am playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare, and I’m getting killed in twisting Rio de Janiero Favelas, on San Francisco bridges, in God-forsaken Balkan wheatfields.  For forty-five minutes, I do so much killing, but even more dying.  It’s immediately obvious that I’m a liability, a weight he has to drag around.  His avatar is literally running over and reviving me constantly.  I die so easily Kyle gets frustrated.  Tellingly, he pops out the disk and says, “let’s play Halo, it’s easier.”

He spends ten minutes letting my robot avatar kill him five different ways, and then we enter this world and run full speed at all the enemy avatars, getting killed, getting my first kill, and then we decide to get all six of us together and organize a team that will play against the public at large.  His friend with a pottymouth has an avatar called “ChinkNigga” — in fact “nigga” is one of the most common words online, followed closely by “fag.”

[Everything about their sense of humor is crude, but casual and ironic, a la South Park. In fact, players frequently choose South Park-themed icons to go with their avatars playernames.  They are actually  more tolerant than kids were twenty years ago, but act the opposite.  They sound much more racist, and their level of discourse is about as bad as any discourse you can find anywhere.  They are innocent, inasmuch as one can be who has spent their entire life in a childhood in which adults write ironic comedy for them, who have participated in virtual violence as a matter of course, like breathing, and they are all probably exposed to endless internet trash and pornography.  But they are all relatively compliant and structured, and even this gaming is a much anticipated “party” because no parent seems to be allowing these games on school nights.  But the jokes are all goofball and irreverent, and probably something that sounds toxic to me, when translated through four layers of irony, is probably slightly less so.]

The computer searches the world for our enemies.  In fact, the XBox shows a map that depicts who in the world is playing.  The coasts of the U.S. are lit up with millions of gamers, as are Western Europe and Israel.  Asia is lit up like a ring of fire.  Millions upon millions of players, mostly male.  Then the teams are set.

Then K— says, “Sweet, we have A—— on our team.  He’s all MLG.”

MLG, or major league gaming, is a tournament league where exceptional gamers earn invitations to compete for prizes worth a thousand dollars or more.  This kid is the best gamer at his school.  The game begins, and K— says, “there he is.”  We see this MLG kid run by, and his avatar is freakishly athletic.  He hurtles past me and kills everything in sight, and disappears as quickly as he came.  But he leaves behind a grenade, and when the enemy team appears,  it is his grenade, and his foresight in placing it, that kills them all.  I said, “thanks, man.  That was awesome.”

K— introduces me and praises this MLG kid.  But all is not happy in gameland.  “ChinkNigga” says, “Hey Jason, in real life he’s fat as shit.”  Another kid says, completely matter of fact, “Yeah, he’s really disgusting to look at.”  And the kid says nothing at all.  What private tragedies occur in these cyber-bullying moments are not at all unlike the moments of face-to-face or telephone bullying when I was their age, only that they are all safely at home, and sober as judges, running around one virtual world or another.

K— introduces me to “ChinkNigga”, rags on his friend’s avatar’s armor (he has pointy shoulder pads).  Then he very courteously introduces us face to face, and “ChinkNiggas” avatar shoots me, steps over to where I’m standing and clubs me to death with his robot arm.  K—‘s Avatar goes running after him, shouting “Don’t kill my friend, fucker.”  And this kid is running off laughing like crazy .  When he kills another one of us, the XBox itself pauses the game and asks if we’d like to boot him.   We do.  But he’s still there, laughing.  He shows up, later,  in the middle of a tense firefight riding a four-wheeler around in circles and laughing like a maniac, but that’s the last I see of him.  For another hour we play Call of Duty, and the party is playing some other game, though we can hear their conversation in the background and I learn to tune it out.

My friend comes downstairs.

K— says, “He’s way better than you, Dad.  He killed five people his first time on Halo.  You just stood there and didn’t even know how to look around.”

My friend shrugs, gives me this look that says, “kids.”  Or maybe it says, “You’ll see when your daughter gets to this age.”

For the past few days, I’ve been considering the implications of my night partying with middle-schoolers.  I sense that any educator of today’s kids would gain from a similar experience.  I learned more about kids by spending two hours in their world than I have learned in recent years by reading about their processes.  This is a snapshot of what’s going on in countless homes around the developed world, and certainly any discussion of middle-school boys would be suspect to me if the person claimed proudly to have never played a video game, or who had never seen them play one, and had no interest in doing so either.  I can’t imagine how anyone would manage  to reach these kids without knowledge of this world.  The ignorance the teacher would be displaying about such a large portion of their life (not to mention the teacher’s invalidation of their greatest areas of competency) would place that teacher at a decided disadvantage regardless of their methods in every other respect.

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14 responses

25 02 2010
jessiebindrim

Your friends time spent in Halo-land sounds like mine. In fact, you sound like every young female who has grown up around the original video game generation. I gave it a shot… and now I stick to N64. Something about the dual joysticks just doesn’t work with my brain. From the little experience I have had with kids in classroom or other settings, knowing their world outside of school is the best and easiest way to earn their respect. When I went to an urban middle school this summer, knowing the latest rap was enough for them to… accept? me into their classroom. I also happen to be a guilty watcher of cartoons (I just never grew out of them…) and it never became beneficial until I worked with first graders at a summer camp and automatically they loved me. Though if you’re not willing to stand up for yourself, this could be a point for the kids to walk all over you. In both of those cases, I wasn’t mad often but if something got out of hand and I used a “stern” voice, the students eyes got wide and they immediately got quiet. It’s the beauty of respect from students.

26 02 2010
Jason Whitney

I wholeheartedly agree that understanding students’ interests is definitely an important part of validating their experiences, which in turn invites them to participate by sharing their ways of knowing about things. I think there is a reactionary, highbrow position, however, especially from English teachers, which says, video games: how un-literary, how depraved, what a waste. But I think kids look at those teachers and they think, “boy, your generation is so (hopelessly, tragically) anachronistic; you don’t even know what your missing in Call of Duty, and you say I don’t know what I’m missing when I study Shakespeare or poetry. I guess we’re even.”

25 02 2010
CaitlinMulroy

I’m going to have to agree with Jessie on this one, I used to love playing N64 with my brother, but once he got an XBOX I couldn’t keep up with the duel joystick or 3D mapping…whatever it is–I just couldn’t keep up. I hear that socially, video games are a must in middle and high school. I know my brother would have missed out on a lot if he didn’t play Halo in high school, and my boyfriend basically only has contact with his friends through online video games. They’re all so busy these days with work and school that they can only hang out via video from 10PM-1AM every other night. I even have a friend who is a new teacher that told me he guiltily plays his students in online video games on Sunday afternoons. Has any one decided what the implications of these video games are? My brother, a current Navy Seal, claims that his profession had nothing to do with the thousands of hours he spent playing “shoot-em-up” games, but I’m just not sure if I believe that. I’m completely in awe when he comes home with crazy looking guns that he and my dad take to the shooting range. They’re just like the ones I see in the Call of Duty games my guy friends are playing!! I guess what I’m wondering is: What kind of effects can these games bring on socially and mentally?

26 02 2010
Jason Whitney

I’d love to ask your Navy Seal brother some follow-up questions. Precisely how does Call of Duty Modern Warfare resemble actual modern warfare, if at all, and what are the chief differences? What is it like when Seals receive training and then go back and play Call of Duty (which I understand many of them do).
And then the new teacher plays his students — but guiltily. I kind of understand that. Video game culture spans across age categories, so they all want to be there gaming together, but then there are boundaries being crossed, and an adult insinuating himself into his students personal lives, where they could treat him with disrespect that might carry over into the classroom. So it’s this grey area the new teacher has to negotiate.
And then all the PSU students do this as well, since they can get their friends together on short notice. This is a helpful part of the conversation as well. Thanks for weighing in!

17 03 2010
CaitlinMulroy

After visiting with my brother after his first real tour in Afghanistan, I’ve got to say that his “shoot em up” game practice had to have some kind of effect on his ability to fight for his country. There has to be some disconnect somewhere along the way. On the other hand, maybe I’m just being a girl about it. I actually tried to play Modern Warfare over break, and although I was terrible at it, I felt kind of weird aiming at this animated people (who actually look surprisingly real), and it’s even worse when there’s a real like person on the other end.

1 03 2010
Chelsea Sandone

You and Jessie both make really good points! My group of guy friends live for these games. They were waiting outside of Best Buy at midnight to buy the new Call of Duty game only to bring it home and spend countless hours zoned out to it. My neighbors two years ago were obsessed with Halo. They were all basketball players for Penn State Altoona. Most days you could find 8-10 of them sitting in different rooms of the apartments playing each other over the live internet portion of the game. It was crazy…18-22 year old college athletes sitting around playing video games into all hours of the night. At one point during the year their internet was disconnected (boys aren’t the best at remembering to pay their bills) so they brought the set up into our apartment, because they were seriously going through withdraw from the game. It is amazing how these video games take over the lives of the “gamers” playing them. From a girls perspective it seems so stupid and boring, but to a boy shopping, clothes, shoes, and getting your nails done seems stupid too. When looking at this situations in younger students, it is really crucial to social status. When a group of boys are talking about how they all battled it out in video games all weekend that student who doesn’t have the game or isn’t allowed to play the game is left out completely. They have no clue what anyone is talking about or what is going on. This could then lead them to feel left out and like a loser. I guess growing up with 3 sisters I never really even cared for this kind of stuff, but it still confuses me how people can be so hooked. Are these games really that great that they can put you up on the social ladder of middle and high school? To also so along with what you guys are talking about I have the same questions as to what these games really teach the students playing them. Is there any positive outcomes of playing this game? Negative ones? Or is it simply for fun? As time goes on these games are only going to become more graphic and violent, so should we be letting kids play them at such young ages and with random strangers over the internet?

25 02 2010
larryweaver

I grew up as one of those Halo kids (I’ve actually participated in MLG tournaments, and my friends and I won our school’s “Halo Tournament” all three years it existed [it was removed after our third year because the principle found out what it involved]).

I know this world — and lived it for a large portion of my pre-college life. But how can you apply that to the classroom? Being able to talk to kids about video games is fine — but what implications does knowing that world have on teaching methods? Should we attempt to include post-post-post ironic texts that align with their online behavior (for the record- you totally read their actions correctly. None of those kids would dare say a word of what they did IRL. They understand the boundaries that are set up in society, and view the online world as a place where they can take on the persona of those hyper-everything characters found on shows like South Park)?

Being familiar with the technology that kids use can go a long way in building rapport with the students, but it’s also important to remember that if it goes too far it can seriously have a negative effect on classroom management. That is to say, if they begin to see you as more and more of a friend (and certainly having an understanding of the video games they regularly play could do that), they won’t respect the moments where you require order in the class.

It’s a struggle I had in the first month or so of teaching — I wanted to befriend my seniors, thinking that would, in turn, give me their respect. I learned pretty quickly, though, that the best way to gain respect is to offer them activities that are engaging and interesting to them, and the respect comes from that.

I suppose it would be interesting to see: what kind of engaging activities can be developed from video games? Halo, for example, has the ability to record in-game video footage. If you had students that were deeply immersed in the game, it could be interesting to see them recreate a scene from a book or play using the characters and environments from the game.

26 02 2010
Jason Whitney

You’re “all MLG?” Awesome!
Thanks for weighing in, and I’m glad you think I have a correct read on things. Also, I like IRL, which means in real life, I suppose, but it’s funny to me. What’s not real life?
So as far as respect and four-layered ironic texts and all that:
I think that students know when we are interested in them, as opposed to when we are pandering to their affections out of our own neediness. My feeling is that students have plenty of friends. What they need in their lives are adults, teachers and coaches and leaders with integrity, who don’t go into chameleon mode and ask of every new situation, how can I change to meet circumstances, so that they will like me? Instead, the adult usually presents a whole person that doesn’t change his essential values all that much, and this means that sometimes that adult gets rejected or finds himself in a situation in which they are none too popular — and that’s fine with them. It’s not an occasion for an identity crisis, in any case. So I think it’s funny to use Halo as the actors in a Shakespearean drama, say, with a comic voiceover. That’s genius: YouTube videos seen 1 million times have resulted from less clever ideas than that. But I am not advocating video games in the classroom really at all, though they could be the occasion for community building and maybe the occasion for some in-class writing and that sort of thing. And then, when a student shows up who is all MLG, you can say, wow, good for you, instead of saying, “you know that stuff is bad for you. You should go to Chinese restaurants that don’t put that on their food.”

1 03 2010
jessiebindrim

The idea of in-game recording brought up a genius idea! I may not be into videogames… but I do have The Sims 2 (yeah, with the University Pack add-on…) There is actually the ability to create movies by setting up your sims actions and taking screen shots as well as recording movies that are all saved on your computer. This was designed so people could indeed make movies with their sims and post them on the website. In fact, the Sims 2 comes with an entire pre-created neighborhood based around Shakespeare. I think I know what my next research for my blog is gonna be… and it’s perfect for the coming spring break. Who knew my Sims addiction for the past decade would turn into something beneficial…

2 03 2010
Willy C Cardoso

Good stuff Jason!
It made me recollect good times I spent with my younger brother and his friends playing Counter Strike overnight, and being called a newby camper every five minutes. Made me also recollect my first English group of pre-adolescents who wouldn’t stop singing ‘Uncle Fucker’ from South Park, and how unprepared I was to handle things like that.

3 03 2010
Jason Whitney

Hey Willy,
I’m psyched you found your way here. Do you have a blog or a website yourself? If you haven’t already, you should create a PLN and link up with my class and their blogs and whatnot. Did you say you were thinking of studying in England? Are you interested in going to the Univ. of Bath in order to study with Lindsay Jordan? I’m a big fan of hers, and I posted some of her videos on my blog. Where are you currently? And where are you from in Brazil?
Jason

3 03 2010
Willy C Cardoso

Hey Jason,
I left you a message on edupln.ning as well. I’m a newby in this pln thing, how do I link with ur class?
In fact, I’m going to Bath cause of the flexibility, the study path, and some distance learning. It’s very difficult to stay in England for a whole year when your currency is a third of theirs, so I’m taking some bits there and some here in Sao Paulo.
I’m from an industrial city called Sao Jose dos Campos, it’s an hour away from Sao Paulo, where I live now.
It’s nice talking to you Jason, drop by my blog as well, http://authenticteaching.wordpress.com

3 03 2010
Jason Whitney

By the way, read through my blog from the beginning, and along the way you’ll see lots of links to my class’ blogs. By all means, they’d love to have you read them and leave comments, and I’m sure they would return the favor.

5 04 2010
Blog Report « Caitlin's PLN Blog

[…] continues to amaze me with the quality of her posts. There was one memorable conversation thread on Jason’s blog post about the implications of Halo and other online shoot em’ up games. I have on occasion had […]

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