Friday, April 30, 2010

Basket Weaving, Orienteering, Tekken

by C.T. Hutt

When I read this week that the Cub Scouts were offering a new merit badge based on a young person’s skills as a video gamer I was floored. We are enthusiastic proponents of the video game medium, but even we will admit that there are limits to how far digital experiences should permeate our lives. Surely the Cub Scouts, an organization dedicated to teaching young people practical skills and encouraging them to explore the outdoors, is the wrong organization to promote the merits of an inherently indoor activity.

A quick glance at the Cub Scouts’ requirements for attaining the video game merit badge sheds some much needed light on the issue. Each required step necessary to attain this mark of recognition encourages young people to not just be gamers, but to be engaged gamers. The steps teach kids to budget their time, to pay attention to the game rating system, and most importantly to seek their parents advice on the suitability of a given title.

Considering the limited exposure many kids have to the arts, digital or otherwise, makes this program seem like an even better idea. Children learn how to read in school, so literature makes an early appearance in the foundations of education (as well it should). If kids are lucky, they may get to take an art class to help them appreciate the basics of design theory and the joy of creative expression. Beyond these rudimentary foundations kids are given little or no guidance toward appreciating the arts. Standard curricula do nothing to encourage children to become savvy and mature video game consumers. If they did, perhaps we would see the market for violent doggerel in the medium decrease.

As someone who espouses the virtues of intelligent gaming I can’t fault the scouts for attempting to improve kids gaming literacy, especially since no one else is making an effort to do so. I also have to concede that my initial resistance to this idea is based mainly in my preconceived notions of what the Scouts should be. Any effort to make kids better consumers of anything is a positive and much needed undertaking. So my salute goes out to you Cub Scouts of America, now see what you can do about getting teenage and adult gamers to weigh the same considerations when they fire up the console.

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