Bard’s game is distressingly shallow
A team at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, has designed a video game to teach children Shakespeare, Reuters reported. The game is supposed to teach memorization of lines from the Bard’s plays, facts about his life and how to create synonyms and homonyms for passages from Shakespeare’s work.
In the Reuters article, the head of the team who came up with the game, Speare, stated that he does "not know of another medium which has 7-year-olds spouting Shakespeare."
Quite frankly, neither do I – nor can I grasp why there is a need for such an approach to Shakespeare.
Most children do not like to sit and read in their free time. In this world of technological advances, educators find themselves having to keep up with the times by catering to students whose attention spans becomes shorter every year. Students can sit for hours on end watching television show after television show or text-messaging their friends, but many become distracted after five minutes of reading and cannot focus on the words in front of them because there are no dazzling displays of lights and moving figures in books to keep their attention.
Any honorable intentions of the Speare design team are displaced by the fact that this approach to learning is detrimental to the process itself.
Imagine the letdown of these students when they are asked to make inferences or draw conclusions about the work and are unable to do so. Simple memorization of facts and a few phrases does nothing to show that a student understands anything about MacBeth or Hamlet.
Even more so, what does a student do when he or she finds that there are no video games about mythology or history? That student will have to sit, read a book and take notes – all of which are not taught by pushing buttons on a controller.
Relying on video games to instruct today’s youth only shows that learning can be interwoven with a leisure activity. Mathematics is not taught through a racing video game; math is learned through instruction, explanation, learning and a whole lot of practice. This practice takes place when the student is in an environment that mimics the one in which he or she will be taking a test.
As valuable as video games may be to the Speare research team, students will not be able to fire up their Nintendo Wii or Xbox 360 at school in order to show that by traipsing through 17 levels they understand the two main characters depicted in all their phases of elation and anguish as found in Romeo and Juliet.
No video game will ever be able to teach such notions. Nor will any 7-year-old understand those two concepts. While Speare may show that students have the capacity for memorization, it does not necessarily foster the ability to reflect and interpret the work as something more than a speed bump one needs to pass over in order to get to the next level in a game.
The impact Shakespeare has had on literature and language is trivialized when video games are used to teach kids to recognize that "To be or not to be" comes from Hamlet. There is beauty and emotion in the Bard’s plays, and studying them as students have for countless years – by reading the actual texts – is the way to best go beyond mere factoids and help enable a new generation to not only appreciate Shakespeare, but understand that the capacity for learning does not come from sitting in front of a television.