If you know me at all, you probably know that I am one of the last people on Earth that would promote kids playing lots of video games. But it doesn’t really matter whether or not I would promote it, because kids are playing lots of video games. And, as a creative writing and art teacher, I made an observation recently that I think is worth sharing (and that makes me sound way less curmudgeon-y than normal).
During my last creative writing residency, when I asked my students to write personal narratives about family memories and then fictional stories about a family member overcoming a made up conflict, they asked if they could write about computer games. I discouraged it, but said that they could do it if they avoided violence and really focused on the experiences of their family members and not just what was happening in the game. They largely ignored me.
And you know what? Their stories were awesome.
When I let go of my personal biases, I saw how excited they were to write their stories. Kids who could hardly stay in their seat for 4 minutes were hashing out 3 page stories that ended with “to be continued,” because they did not want to stop.
Their stories were filled with action, adventure, and drama while sticking to a cohesive narrative arc.
I did not have to prod them for detail like I normally do. They drew out descriptions of how they built houses or escaped from evil ‘animatronics.’
And, most interestingly to me, their narrative voices sounded unlike any other 3rd grade narrators I’d heard. They were mature and sometimes even archaic, one student referring to the reader as “my child.” They wove lots of dialogue into their stories, and one student even embedded short fables of the protagonist’s parents’ youth into his longer tale.
The same phenomenon was happening with my art students. A group of boys who had all but stopped participating in the activities now got excited about any art form they could apply to their favorite characters. There was no denying that computer games were encouraging kids’ creativity. And I wasn’t the first to notice it. A Michigan State University study linked video games to creativity in kids years ago.
The point of all this is not at all to say that parents should go encourage their kids to spend lots of time playing computer games. It’s to say that since computer games are something that many kids are excited about, we should use that excitement to make connections with other things. Encourage kids to draw their favorite characters… and then make up their own. Ask them to write stories or act them out. Build actual models of what they build in the games or create costumes of the characters. Come up with math problems about them.
When kids get passionate about something, whether or not it’s something you care about yourself, make the most of it.