In this Slogging AMA, we had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Haddad, liberal arts professor and video game advocate. She is known for using video games for education in the classroom and for her work at universities such as the University of Buffalo. We chat with her about how she uses games to educate and the educational system in general.
This Slogging thread by Jack Boreham, Vanessa Haddad, Sara Pinto, Mónica Freitas and Limarc Ambalina occurred in slogging's official #amas channel, and has been edited for readability.
Hey @channel, please join me in welcoming our next AMA guest, Vanessa Haddad. Vanessa is a Liberal arts professor and lecturer at many well-known universities such as the University of Buffalo. Vanessa is a keen video gamer and known for using games to educate on topical issues.
Please feel free to ask Vanessa anything about:
Hi Vanessa Haddad. Thank you for joining us!! A pleasure to have you on. To start can you explain a bit about yourself and what you do! 😄
Hi Jack Boreham! Thank you for having me! I'm a professor and chair of a liberal arts department at SUNY Erie in the United States in Buffalo, New York (close to Niagara Falls, famous for chicken wings and losing sports teams, although this year seems all right!). My work in terms of writing and research revolves around video games and using them to make people's lives better. I look at ways to use philosophy and psychoanalytic theory to analyze gameplay, I look at how certain types of games can improve lives in terms of well-being and learning, and how games can be used in formal education spaces. Lately, I've taken a big interest in chess, and how it could be used as an accessibility tool for improving things like executive function and socialization of all kinds of people across all abilities, ages, and backgrounds. I'm happy to answer any questions you may have, I look forward to this!
Hi Vanessa Haddad, glad to have you here! Why did you start to take interest in video games and the way it can improve our lives?
Hi Sara Pinto, great question! I grew up playing video games from a very young age and I guess I would consider myself part of the NES generation. I noticed in times of my life (and of course, this is very anecdotal), that when I was having a stressful time, playing video games for a short amount of time really helped me to recenter and think and have clarity. It's an activity that allowed me to be mindful and stay in the moment when it can be really difficult to have that in other ways.
I also noticed that some of the deepest and best conversations that I ever had were playing games, whether tabletop/analog games or video games. Something about people in the Flow State really helps to bring clarity and to bring people together. Of course, these are broad generalizations, but these observations that I had led me to research a little bit more about this in a serious way once I was in graduate school about how this looks psychologically and it's been a rabbit hole ever since!
Hi Vanessa Haddad. What are your favourite video games? Let's say, top 5?
Also, why did you decide to mix video games with teaching? What perks have you found in this coupling?
Hi Mónica Freitas, great questions! Top 5 is a hard question! In no particular ranking, Breath of the Wild, because of the openness and freedom of the world; Knights of the Old Republic is an interesting game because it involves a great deal of moral decision making, To the Moon made a great emotional impact on me, Civilization (I've logged close to 1000 hours over 10 years on Civ 5), and an old favorite is the original Tomb Raider series, as Lara showed me a type of female role model that I hadn't seen before. She's educated, physically strong, does and goes what she wants, and the romantic narrative wasn't really a part of the series. It was cool to see a woman portrayed this way growing up, although of course there are some drawbacks to her story and that she steals artefacts.
Vanessa Haddad, hahaha. Thank you for that awesome intro! I would love to know a bit more about how you analyse gameplay through psychoanalysis. Have you found in your studies that games improve well-being? Also, forgive me for asking... Are buffalo wings really as good as people say they are 😂
Mónica Freitas in terms of mixing games and teaching, games have the ability to help with empathy development, especially historical empathy development, in ways that go a step beyond novels/narratives. They can help to develop critical thinking skills, and when used effectively, can sort of "dupe" people into learning without even realizing it.
I'm a big believer in Piaget's and Vygotsky's theories of play and development, but play has benefits for people across the lifespan. In an academic environment, I've found that students even at the college and university level are seemingly becoming more resistant to reading and engaging with traditional types of literacy, so mixing together different types of literacies can help to complement learning from both print and media, and make role-taking more accessible
Mónica Freitas students generally respond well to the use of games in class, whether it's designing them or playing them, but they have to be relevant games/activities to the curriculum that is easy to learn, and usually freely accessible
Jack Boreham Buffalo wings are great bar food, and I'd say they're about a 7/10. Flavor is fantastic, but they're quite heavy! People get into heated debates here on the best wings and where to get them. We started a wing festival about ten years ago because a wing festival in Buffalo was part of the plot 😂
Vanessa Haddad That’s a great answer! Playing games can help us relax, therefore it can improve the outcome of whatever we are doing. But what’s your opinion about the negative side effects that, in a more specific note, video games can cause?
Jack Boreham Yes, they can improve well being. My go-to researcher for this topic is Isabella Granic, who focuses on the benefits of gaming and developing games to help manage anxiety through the use of a controller that functions from breathing. The biggest positive with games when used responsibly, is that they give a small dopamine boost when a goal is accomplished. So playing a puzzle game for under a half-hour will improve mood for example
Sara Pinto great question! Doug Gentile from the University of Iowa focuses on this extensively in the context of the impact of violence in video games. He has made some interesting discoveries, and the most important one that I can think of off the top of my head is that violent video games don't necessarily make people act violently; rather, what can happen is, they can change your worldview. An example that he uses for this is let's say there's somebody walking down a hallway and someone bumps into them. Somebody who doesn't play violent video games will likely think that it was accidental and move on, whereas somebody who plays violent video games is likely to make the assumption that it was intentional and will likely become confrontational. He also found that people who play violent video games can become focused on revenge fantasies much more so than people who don't play them
Jack Boreham in terms of psychoanalysis and gameplay, this is going to sound very dated, but I really enjoy Freud's work around life and death drives, and when I frame the types of games that people really enjoy playing, especially in the horror genre, I tend to think about how we have these needs for both survival and community and also an attraction to death as symbolizing a state of peace and well-being. On some level, games can provide that as a catharsis. I recently wrote a piece about the tension that arises when we engage with games that are opposite in style - casual, mellow games that often focus on community, and contrasting that with intense that's focus styles of gaming as 'contragaming'
Vanessa Haddad oh that's really interesting. I can see how gaming can help retain information and help understand better certain topics. Speaking from my college experience, it was most dependent on literature and sometimes, it's hard to retain so much information.
Vanessa Haddad, what's your opinion on the current educational system?
Mónica Freitas thanks for sharing! In what ways?
Vanessa Haddad, do you think the way passed down knowledge to be efficient? Should we adapt the way we go about classes or the topics were focusing on?
Mónica Freitas with the current generation of students there's definitely a lot of room for improvement in terms of the way that knowledge is being passed down to them. There seems to be a great amount of trauma and distractions and lots of things fighting for attention for students at the moment, and yet there seems to be an inefficiency in teaching effective coping skills to manage the distractions and trauma that can ultimately detract from the ability for an executive function to really operate optimally.
How this would look in the future how it should look is a tough question to answer, but we are so focused at least in the united states, on the memorizing and basic understanding level of Bloom's taxonomy that we don't typically push most of our students beyond that level which is really where we need to be pushing them. So in my thinking, I would encourage the teaching of effective social and emotional learning as a top priority so that the clutter and distractions in the brains of our students can ultimately be removed and healed to improve executive functioning learning and memory.
Vanessa Haddad so interesting! You mention the small dompamine rush associated with playing a game for a short amount of time. I'm guessing with longer play sessions; games can be detrimental to wellbeing? Also, what about different genres of games? Would a shooting game be worse for our health than a puzzle game?
Vanessa Haddad, I think you're right; games with these elements hit us deep in the soul. Do you think that's why games such as The Last of Us we're so well received, beyond gameplay? It touches on a lot of those elements you mentioned.
Vanessa Haddad That's really interesting. May I ask what different tactics you've tried to make learning more effective and engaging? Outside of video games?
“somebody who plays violent video games is likely to make the assumption that it was intentional and will likely become confrontational. He also found that people who play violent video games can become focused on revenge fantasies much more so than people who don’t play them”
That’s really interesting Vanessa, and alarming. I’d love to read that study if you can link it!
But, doesn’t that give evidence to the group of people that say video games can make people more violent? What is your interpretation of that study’s result?
Also, have you done any research into how VR games can be used in education? I really think that is the future of gaming and also gamifying education
Limarc Ambalina Absolutely! Here's a great interview starting around 21:00 minutes where he addresses this:
Here's his google scholar page https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=DfTlUN0AAAAJ&hl=en&oi=sra, the first article listed explains these ideas well. I'm hoping he updates this data in the near future!
Limarc Ambalina I'm a bit anti-gamifying education. To clarify what I mean, gamifying something means to create goals, points, rewards, and competition/leaderboards. Many things in our daily lives are gamified - travel points, credit card rewards systems, even Steam is gamified! This works great in terms of consumer behavior and increasing participation/spending.
I don't think this has a place in education because this is all about extrinsic motivation, which so many students are already struggling with. "Why should I do this" is a common mentality. Right now, the extrinsic motivator for most students is the grade outcome - not what was actually learned or experienced, but just what the grade says. This is already troublesome because grades less and less are an actual reflection of mastery. Richard Arum's controversial book Academically Adrift illustrates this well in the US.
If people are continually trained to mainly reward extrinsic motivators, such as grades, money, or other outside rewards, then they're not keying into learning in and of itself, their values, and what they care about. Extrinsic motivation has its positives but ultimately allows many students to be led around by what they think they need to be led around by. Which doesn't make for great life outcomes?
Limarc Ambalina VR has great potential for education, but development hasn't caught up to the technology for this. With covid being an ongoing issue, the greatest potential here is with distance education and laboratories. Additionally, VR and healthcare training long before covid has been a powerful and efficient tool. Here's a meta-analysis about this topic in healthcare from a few years back https://www.jmir.org/2019/1/e12959
Limarc Ambalina Regarding But, doesn’t that give evidence to the group of people that say video games can make people more violent? What is your interpretation of that study’s result?
Limarc Ambalina It depends on how violence is being discussed. In the US for example, when video games and violence are connected together, it's almost always in the context of school and mass shooting events, which is a uniquely American problem. People will look to identify if a gunperson played games like Call of Duty, for example, and say "Call of Duty caused this person to pick up a gun and shoot people".
Anyone who's taken basic developmental psychology knows that imitating behavior that you see is something that young children do, which is called modeling (you've probably seen the Bobo doll in which kids repeatedly punch it after watching someone else do it). People who have evolved past this stage don't just do something horrifically violent because they saw someone else do it.
Limarc Ambalina So in American discourse, we don't have a nuanced way of addressing the issue - the conversation becomes "this person who did this bad thing did it because they played this game, therefore, all video games are bad". We're very poor in thinking of violence in other ways. It's a considerably black and white issue here. But to your point - yes, this would point to the potential of violent behavior increasing, if the definition of violence is broadened in a more nuanced way
Jack Boreham it depends on what you mean by health! Shooter games improve rapid cognition and hand/eye coordination. Puzzle games tend to relax us!
Jack Boreham Games like Last of Us have powerful narratives that do indeed affect people on an emotional level, and having that first/third person immersive experience makes it all the more powerful., especially when considering the length of time games like this tend to take, and are well-written!
Mónica Freitas, I really like project-based learning, and design thinking as tactics to enhance learning outside of gaming. Essentially forcing students to think about creating something, or how they would teach others about it after creating something (Feyman Technique!) gives them a great deal of control over their own learning. However, the downside to this is the amount of energy it takes to accomplish this kind of work. Some students would much prefer to go to a lecture, take an exam, and never think about something again
Jack Boreham Yes, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! Playing too much can lead to negative effects if it means that other areas of life are neglected. There is no objective measure of what this looks like in terms of time, but it's similar to other types of addiction - if work, social life, health, finances, etc. are suffering due to gaming, then yes, it can be problematic
Jack Boreham Genre definitely matters! Here's an example https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S074756321400661X?casa_token=UFEa9I01wF0AAAAA:33Acxq1gUq1R60cO9TicFYHGgp1dL3t8ah6blkVrKb0XgVfQS1tpirKvTjWObGYkwn8vOhznfQ
Vanessa Haddad, I will give this a read. Super fascinating! To round off this insightful AMA, can you talk about how you have used games in the classroom. 😄
Jack Boreham absolutely! It depends on the lesson and the context but games can be really used for nearly any subject. If I'm teaching about let's say inequity in the workplace for example there's a fantastic game called two interviews that I like to use to illustrate simple differences between men and women interviewing for jobs. It's in the context of the European Union, so it is a little bit different for American students, but the concepts are still the same.
There's a game that I used to teach about financial literacy called shady sam, where students are put in the role of a loan shark so they have to use mathematical concepts to figure out who they'll make the most money off of and why when people come to them for a loan and desperate situations. The idea of using this is to give them the perspective of the other side of the table so that they understand what to look for when they inevitably need to borrow money for things like a car or home purchase
Jack Boreham I also use the game called unfair Mario that was basically like super Mario Maker before that was a thing, but basically the premise is that everything in the game is basically a lie so I have students work together to figure out how to progress through the game which is interesting as a team-building exercise because everybody gets very engaged!
The key to using video games in the classroom is to find things that everybody can access easily and that they'll be interested in playing hopefully. I've tried to use commercial games in the past like SimCity to teach about sociological concepts on a macro level, and how societal structure and institutions interplay with daily living. But unfortunately, it didn't go nearly as well as I hoped it would because of the learning curve and how difficult it was for me to deal with licensing issues accounts etc. So ever since then, I've stayed away from using commercial games and mainly focused on indie games that are developed for a specific purpose
Jack Boreham I'll add a link here to a volume that's available to download for free as a PDF from Carnegie Mellon University that lists 100 games and how to use them in the classroom! I have a chapter in it for a game called every day the same dream, which is basically a darker version of Groundhog Day if you're familiar
Now that professors and teachers are adding games to the classroom, I feel like I was born 15 years too early :rolling_on_the_floor_laughing: I'd love to be in a classroom today.
Based on all your studies and just your personal life in gaming: do you think there are things players should and shouldn't be allowed to do in a video game? This is a question of censorship.
Films these days can portray all the horrific things the human mind can imagine. But since players have agency in most games, do you think the rules are a bit different? It's one thing to portray suicide in a tv show, but another to allow a player to commit suicide in a video game. In my opinion, at least, those two things are very different. I'm interested to hear your thoughts
Vanessa Haddad, I can see how it can be time-consuming and challenging to put these strategies into practice. However, the long-run benefits are clear.
Limarc Ambalina tough question! I think generally anything with rape/torture simulation should be avoided as a first-person experience. I hadn't ever thought about suicide simulation either but that seems like another thing to avoid!
Vanessa Haddad that's a wrap on the AMA. Thank you so much for joining us. It was a pleasure to have you on! Where can people catch you (social media etc) or find your work?
Jack Boreham Thanks for having me! LinkedIn and Twitter @VanessaLHaddad is the best way to find me and my work!