Learning The Gaming Way

Shawn Williams | 22 Aug 2006 08:00
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When someone mentions "educational gaming," it used to be the only games we could discuss were games like Mario Teaches Typing or Number Munchers. They were games meant to teach you measurable skills in hard-wired subjects like math, English or - if you were lucky enough to sport a high-end Apple II in your classroom - you could fire up Oregon Trail and learn how to make your entire family die of cholera.

In our enlightened, modern era, it's become more obvious that sometimes the "education" you can receive from games extends beyond adding and subtracting. While many games can teach valuable skills like complex problem solving and how to manage a budget, there are some games that have educational benefits that go beyond what you learn in a classroom.

Oftentimes, the trick lies in identifying exactly what it is you want to learn.

Identifying A Problem
As in any marriage, mine is divided into various roles, which my wife and I then carefully sort according to our talents. Striking a blow for feminists everywhere, my wife Becky banished me to the kitchen to cook dinner while she balanced the checkbook.

On occasion, I would consult the checkbook while I browsed the Alienware website and drooled over the latest gaming rigs. Looking through our many debits and few deposits, I would dream about ignoring such unimportant bills as rent, groceries and car payments in order to save up for the ultimate laptop.

It was during one of these daydreams I noticed an error. It was a game-related charge, of course. When I spotted an extra monthly fee being charged to our checking account in our checkbook, my initial thought was Becky had rolled a night elf character in World of Warcraft - an act so downright vile and inexcusable that apparently she had bought another account in the hopes I wouldn't find out and descend upon her in all my Horde fury. When I noticed the fee was being charged to my bank card, I thought she was really being devious - but then I noticed other discrepancies: Mundane charges being entered twice, checks being recorded for the wrong amounts. The sort of mistakes Becky just didn't make.

When I pointed out the errors to her, she turned to me with shame in her eyes and asked if I could take over doing the checkbook for her. The simple task of balancing the checkbook had become too difficult for her.

You've Got Cog In My Nitive
Becky was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in April of 2000. Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. It attacks the myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells, causing them to misfire and damaging the nerves themselves. The symptoms are varied and extremely numerous, but one of the most common is cognitive dysfunction.

Becky has a wonderful neurologist that she regularly works with, Dr. Hany Salama. He's a handsome, intelligent, young doctor that could have walked out of the set of a medical drama on TV. He always makes time to talk to us and is very receptive to trying out new suggestions and therapies that might help. But when we approached him about treatment for the cognitive problems Becky was having, he could only offer a few aides: Making use of a notebook or PDA, using a calculator, etc. There just aren't that many treatments; most rehabilitation centers don't have any programs in place for cognitive therapy and instead focus on "work-arounds," ways to compensate for loss of ability and tools to use in place of relying upon your memory.

As we researched possible therapies and read up on various treatments that had proven effective for some of our friends in the MS community, many of them talked about the benefits of simple puzzles and mind-games, like Sudoku and crossword puzzles.

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