The Pitfalls of Educational Gaming

Sony is already working on VR tech for Playstation. Educational gaming won’t be far behind.
Photo credit: Marco Verch (CC-By-2.0)

We wrote recently about deep concerns with so-called “personalized learning,” which is destined to create algorithms on individual students that may – for good or ill — direct the rest of their lives. But digital personalized learning could go beyond measuring and evaluating students’ performance and actually change their attitudes, mindsets, and opinions. Children will stop being who they are and become the people the government wants them to be.

One area of personalized learning already becoming entrenched in schools is video gaming. Gurus of educational gaming claim it can change the world, by changing students’ brains. This is presented as a good thing.

In a TED talk from 2010, Jane McGonigle from the Institute for the Future explained how gaming can accomplish this lofty but disturbing goal. McGonigle touted the benefits of immersing students in virtual reality (VR) so that they begin to behave in their real lives the same way they behave in the game. For example, McGonigle cited a game called A World Without Oil, in which players adapt their actions to the absence of fossil fuels. The longer they play this game, she claims, the more they’ll start to model the same behavior in real life. See how this works?

Another prominent advocate of educational gaming is Dr. James Gee of Arizona State University. Gee (who frets continually about global warming, relabeled “climate change” during snowstorms) is quite open about using gaming to change society by changing the mindsets of students. Like McGonigle, he wants students to invest thousands of hours in gaming so that, for them, the difference between virtual reality and, well, reality, disappears.

And Gee recognizes the added benefit of accomplishing this by stealth. From an interview he gave in 2014:

We keep talking about schools and teachers, because we do not want to talk about society, ourselves, and the craven way we empower the rich, corporations, and rampant Social Darwinism. We cannot change our society in one fell swoop. Sneak in, move quietly, attack unseen, put away the suit – be a snake.

Perhaps Gee’s disdain for telling parents what’s happening stems from his education worldview, which values students not as individuals whose God-given potential is to be developed, but as agents to advance his preferred agenda:

We need collective intelligence where we view humans, in mind and body, as plug and play devices that get smart only when they are plugged into good tools, good people, and good practices in the service of pooling knowledge and diversity to make the world a better place.

What constitutes “good” tools, people, and practices and a “better” world is apparently to be determined by ideologues such as Dr. James Gee. And the idea of actually learning an academic discipline is passe’. As he says, “[With gaming,] you are not learning a discipline, you are learning multiple skills, social and emotional intelligence, collective intelligence.”

The United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) is also excited about the world-changing potential of educational gaming. Promoting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, UNESCO lauds gaming as an “innovative pedagogy” that can educate students “for sustainable development, peace and global citizenship.”

UNESCO cites researchers who report that “the act of playing video games can change the structure and composition of the brain,” which could make it easier to get students to accept what UNESCO preaches. The organization’s 2014 International Gaming Challenge solicited new games “incorporating themes related to peace and sustainability, including alternative energy, climate change, culture, social issues, gender, consumerism, the impact of corporations, education and global citizenship.” Sounds like the Democratic Party platform, doesn’t it?

The next step in educational VR is wearable devices for students. Many schools already use devices to track physiological data, such as heart rates in P.E. classes (perhaps without telling parents). But according to the New Media Consortium, schools are only a few years away from adopting more sophisticated VR headsets (such as the Rift headset from Facebook subsidiary Oculus) that immerse students in an alternate universe.

Though attractions of this technology are obvious, such as the ability to “transport” art students to the Louvre to study the paintings, the dangers are only now beginning to be publicized. According to an article in, “the very systems that enable immersive experiences are already establishing new forms of shockingly intimate surveillance.”

Researchers warn that “the psychological aspects of digital embodiment – combined with the troves of data that consumer VR products can freely mine from our bodies, like head movements and facial expressions – will give corporations and governments unprecedented insight and power over our emotions and physical behavior.” A VR company in Louisiana, for example, claims its product can determine the user’s emotional state by tracking movements of his eyes and facial muscles. Researchers predict that VR systems will ultimately create “kinematic fingerprints” that “could be used to uniquely identify and analyze a person based on their [sic] body movements and posture . . . .”

Even more troubling is the potential of VR technology to alter people’s thoughts and behavior. Quoted in the article from, one Silicon Valley data scientist said, “The goal of everything we do is to change people’s actual behavior at scale . . . . We can capture their behaviors, identify good and bad behaviors, and develop ways to reward the good and punish the bad.”

How would this work? As described by researchers at Dublin City University, the avatars created by these VR platforms could “nudge” students into accepting certain views, perhaps by smiling at certain ideas and frowning at others. “Artificial avatars,” the researchers write, “would be all the more effective if they can access data about the user’s emotional responses via eye-tracking or other emotion capture.”

The multiplicity of issues raised by such technology is almost breathtaking. With such intimate personal data being collected by corporations and made available to schools (i.e., the government), the privacy issues alone could fill a book. And this technology is already creeping into schools. It’s safe to say the troubling issues are not being explained to parents.

Even Orwell didn’t foresee the type of technology that can change a child’s brain. Nor did he predict the level of arrogance that would allow government to embrace such technology without even telling parents what’s being done to their children. Parents must investigate the truth about personalized learning and the harm it can cause. And though they’ll be labeled Luddites by government officials, ed-tech lobbyists, and global planners, they must exercise their right to say, “No – never with my child.”

One thought on “The Pitfalls of Educational Gaming

  1. We are seeing the God complex come into full bloom with “experts” and devoted wannabes misusing the marvelous world of technology. Such moves as the God complex always lead to failure and take thousands (or millions) down with them. (Think Hitler, Genghis Kahn and others.)

    At least my God believes in free will that allows me to think freely and make lots of mistakes. I’ll take my God, a personal creator, over human gods with their corrupted efforts and/or machines. We can beat them, but I don’t know if we have enough who will join us. A lot of money and power are at stake with such god movements.

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