GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Atari Academy

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/06/18 at 09:00

Meg Palladino, writing from Boston, MA, USA

Video games are an excellent teaching tool.  When I think back on my childhood, there are several lessons I learned from playing my neighbors’ Atari games.  For example:

Pac Man: Pac Man taught me how I should go about life every day.  I must move forward, checking things off of my ‘to do’ list.  The path is often unclear and uncharted; my goal is to get it all done. Sometimes life feels like a maze. Along my path, there are things that I need to avoid: mistakes, difficult people, and unsavory tasks.  Encountering these things will ruin my day. 

Frogger: When I am having a bad day, I feel like the little frog, trying to make it across the road.  I want to hide in safe spaces, but I need to continue toward my goals.  Hiding in one space will only hurt me in the end.  I could be hit by one of those trucks!  Frogger showed me that it is better to keep going, even when the going gets rough.

Pong: Pong demonstrated that teamwork is sometimes more fun than working alone.  Teamwork is crucial to success.  Teachers need students, students need administrators, and administrators need a team of people to complete tasks effectively.  Ideally, if the task can be done efficiently and with some fun, everyone wins.

Night Driver: Night Driver taught me that I can’t be good at everything.  I tried and tried to stay on the road in that game, but I am truly awful at it.  I learned that sometimes, you need to hand off projects to people who have that particular skill set. I can take joy from their successes, and the project gets done right.

Pitfall: Pitfall confirmed for me that there is more than one way to solve a problem.  I could get across a pit of quicksand by swinging on a vine, or by leaping across on the heads of alligators.  Each decision has pros and cons and unique dangers.

Some games even gave me more complicated cultural lessons.

Space Invaders: I learned about boundaries from Space Invaders. Spatial boundaries and concepts of privacy vary from culture to culture.  While working at my desk, I have had several international students come in and stand directly behind my chair, peering closely at my computer screen as they ask me an unrelated question.  These students also carefully examine every document on my desk, craning their necks to see what I have there while they discuss their problems.  There are other students who stand too close while they are talking to me.  I take a step back, and they take a step closer.  These types of students are like space invaders.

Although my generation embraces technology, I am nostalgic for these games and their simple lessons.

Meg Palladino

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  1. It is very odd that you would post this now, because just yesterday I was trying to tease such a metaphor out of Dig Dug and the Gulf Apoilcalypse: Tubers are a better prize than oil? Frightening things come from underground? Don’t get so busy trying to entubate a problem that something worse can surprise you? But you have done this more elegantly, bravo.

    • Hi Alex,

      I guess great minds think alike! ;) I have no doubt that you will find your Dig Dug/oil metaphor…you are on the right track.

      I was trying to think of a good one for Donkey Kong. Any ideas?

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