Microsoft plays games with education

The irony. There I was relaxing by watching a cable show episode on a laptop at Camp Realist, when an ad from Microsoft interrupts the program to subsidize my free viewing. I didn’t mind the commercial interruption. What I did mind was the spin Microsoft was putting on college education, or how to be well-prepared for the college experience for the upcoming Fall semester. Here’s the commercial:

It wasn’t at all about the PC that could lead to great learning opportunities at college. It was about the fun a college student could have with the free XBOX in his (or her, but really his) dorm room. Unaware to me, Microsoft had this same promo going last year too. What bothers me about the commercial is that Microsoft has the power to push education but tries to get at the student with an entertainment box. Yes, I know about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and how much their foundation is involved in learning communities. But that doesn’t excuse Microsoft from going soft and trying to sell entertainment under the guise of education, specifically to young men going from high school to college.

What message is Microsoft sending about education? It could be argued that they want students to relax after a long day of studying. But when the add provides a  description on the pros of owning an XBOX and nil on the pros of owning a PC, that’s when I have to wonder about their intent. Per the add, “The Xbox 360 4GB Console… Wi-Fi is built in for easier connection to the world of entertainment… where HD movies and TV stream in an instant. Xbox 360 is more games, entertainment, and fun.” oh yeah, and pick a PC so you can get all of this free stuff. On this facebook page it states the PC and XBOX are all you really need for college, with a visual emphasis on the latter.

I would think that Microsoft would throw its weight around and toss in a free subscription to an online encyclopedia. I would think that Microsoft would have a campaign stating that you get the Office suite at no charge with the purchase of a PC. That would be a better educational investment if Microsoft truly wanted to make a difference this fall in campuses around the country. Instead, the focus is on games and entertainment. Bill and Melinda should think this one through some more.

Now I’m no fuddy-duddy. I’m all for entertainment. I’m all for relaxing after a hard day of work. But I don’t put relaxing ahead of educating during the semester. Yet that’s what Microsoft, by way of this marketing campaign, is telling students to do as they settle into their dorms and wave bye-bye to their parents until Thanksgiving.

I guess I have Microsoft to thank for making my career that much more challenging. At least I know what I may be up against when I return in August and do my best to motivate students to put learning ahead of gaming.

We want an educated society but corporate america, in its profit driven life, will not make it easy to reach that goal.

2 thoughts on “Microsoft plays games with education

  1. “At least I know what I may be up against when I return in August and do my best to motivate students to put learning ahead of gaming.” –The Realist.

    I just submitted my tenure project last week (fingers crossed), in which I argue games are a great tool, when used effectively, to help educate. That as educators, we should pay close attention to games and their ability to focus and motivate the mind to deal with difficult and complicated problems at a level closer to an individual’s maximum potential. So it seems we are at odds.

    I also made an argument that the previous argument must deal with a widespread prejudice against games, that they are merely forms of recreation, and mutually exclusive from difficult, productive work. Part of me felt silly arguing this, because the effectiveness of games is quite clear to me. So, thank you for exemplifying the sort of value I’m arguing against!

    But it seems, Realist, that despite the negative tenor against games represented in your post, your true gripe is not with games but with Microsoft’s exploitation of students to sell a gaming machine, and that this exploitation is aggravated by the seductive nature of games. I’m in agreement with you there.

    The additional presumption, however, that education should come before games presumes a false dichotomy, that education and games are necessarily mutually exclusive.

    • You are right KS,
      My gripe is with Microsoft’s exploitation of students. Male students specifically. My apologies to you specifically if I did not make that clear enough in my post.

      I don’t believe that education and games are mutually exclusive. In fact, I think we could use statistics from sporting events to promote critical thinking in math. One of many possibilities that would raise standards (not that I am promoting standards here) if we could see past what you call “a false dichotomy.”
      I don’t think we are too far off from agreement here. (Bring in the Olympic Games to all classrooms!)

      I do think games, when played for the sole purpose of recreation, have very little to do with direct learning.* Try teaching physics to a group of pool players who just want to have fun at Dave and Buster’s and you’ll see what I mean. However, in support of your argument, if you bring that pool table into a science room, that changes the dynamics (no pun intended). Based on the environment, the latter places education before gaming whereas the former ignores formal education and prefers the mutual exclusivity (and perhaps a round of drinks for good measure).

      I do believe that when educators use games as learning tool, there can be much to gain. I also believe that when capitalists attempt to sell us games as learning tools, we should proceed with caution. For an educator and capitalist, the desired outcomes and gains are very different. I am arguing that capitalists have no business trying to sell us on the gaming of education and I apologize if you think I was throwing educators into that mix.

      Thanks to your reply, I will proceed with caution so that I do not further enable the prejudice of gaming in the classroom.
      So long as your name isn’t Bill Gates and you are not out to profit (cash-wise) from selling me on the idea.

      Thanks for playing!

      *Even when we play for recreation we learn indirectly and informally. That I know. In this reply my focus is on direct and formal learning in a classroom.

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