Thomas Arnold is best remembered for his reforms of the education system based on the tenets of Muscular Christianity, and most famously for his focus on the importance of team games, especially rugby, in developing character. I would like to argue that eSports could perform a similar function today, and should become a part of every school’s extra-mural programme.
Video gaming gets a bad rap, but a raft of research now suggests that playing video games is healthy, and leads to a positive sense of well-being and social engagement. Up to 3 hours a day, that is! Any more than that and players experience negative side-effects. I’m not going to bore you with a well-documented summary of the research – this article by Jane McGonigal presents the case pretty cogently. What I want to do is to make the link between Thomas Arnold and his Victorian notions of turning unruly louts into gentlemen, and playing video games competitively, and in teams.
Games such as DotA, CounterStrike, League Of Legends or Smite all involve players in a team game with a premium on strategy. Players need not only to plan a strategy over how they will collaborate to win the game, but they also need to learn how to communicate with each other to co-ordinate this plan in-game, and switch strategies in pre-determined game plans when their opponents have “figured out” what they are doing. Each player has a role to play in the overall strategy, and players train before a match to work out tactics they can use. If you can spot what your opponents are up to and trump their strategy you can set traps and gank them!
I cannot vouch for this, but I believe that eSports involves considerably more strategizing than a game like rugby. But even if it is merely the same, I believe it offers the chance for boys and girls to learn to work together on developing strategies and tactics in a setting which does not usually endanger one’s collar-bone! There are many children who can never hope to attain the physical prowess necessary to be chosen for a team at rugby or hockey, but all children can learn to play video games at a level which will involve them in strategizing, collaborating and communicating effectively.
Even the so-called casual gamer, when they play an eSport will need to fit in with the team strategy. I run a gaming club and every Friday I sit listening to kids screaming at each other because someone has not fulfilled their part in the game plan! Kids are frank, and can be cruel, but in eSports they tend to support each other as well. You don’t destroy an individual you are going to have to depend on next Friday when you play again! Older players tend to stop their game and give advice to newbies. It is a noisy, but quite warm and fuzzy environment.
Gamers have something of a reputation for being foul-mouthed, racist, sexist and bent on trolling behaviours, but in a school environment the atmosphere is one of camaraderie and sportsmanship – maybe because there’s a teacher present! While teenagers are racking up those 10 000 hours they apparently spend playing video games I believe it is vital that we give them a structured, disciplined environment to learn how to play with sportsmanship, largess and collaborative bonhomie! If we leave it to chance that they will fall in with the right crowd online we might be in for a rude shock. Let us rather, as teachers and parents, encourage youngsters to join a gaming club at school, compete with other schools, and learn the etiquette of gaming from the ground up.
In South Africa, Mind Sports South Africa runs an inter-school league for eSports. I firmly believe we need to integrate eSports into the sports curriculum, and recognise its importance in socializing screenagers!