Montessori school? No, Animal Crossing.

Because of this class, in the past week, I have been thinking a lot about video games and how or what I played growing up. Some of the games I played the most were: TheSims 4, Nintendogs and Animal Crossing. To be honest, I always thought of video games as a waste of my time, nevertheless, I truly enjoyed them. For me, it was about playing for the sake of it, and there isn’t anything wrong with that but I always thought I never got anything out of it. Or at least until now…

Recently, I started working as a babysitter for a bunch of families and the word ‘Montessori method’ haunts me: it comes up constantly. So I forced myself to watch a couple of videos (here’s one of them) to better understand what this method really is about, here’s a summary of what I see as the main general concepts:

  • It is a students/children-focussed teaching method rather than being technique-focussed
  • It is designed to teach real-life skills
  • It relies on personalised experiences: children are encouraged to experiment and make mistakes while acting independently.
  • It is based on freedom of choice
  • Children independently create their own tasks to learn new skills. They adjust and eventually increase the difficulty according to their needs.

Now, if you watch the video linked above from 4:55 you’ll see a two-year-old girl behaving like a little adult without losing the fun games can provide. I remember that this is what I used to feel like when I was proudly walking my Nintendogs golden retriever or when I took care of my Sims. Could the Montessori method describe how I experienced video games growing up? Now, if the Montessori method is so popular there must be a reason and if it can be applied to video games does it mean the Animal Crossing was actually beneficial for my development?

While I think there are huge differences between Montessori (which focuses on real-world experiences) and video games (virtual-world based), there are also many similarities between these two realities and the way motivation, desire for self amelioration and independence are implemented. For example, when playing the games above-mentioned, I always had to choose the activity that was right for me in that given moment, I decided how to progress to the next level, and when I finally did, I would then carry on trying to better myself, my avatar or dogs. I would also find myself in a virtual world I did not know and that was my responsibility to discover. During the process, I would make mistakes and continue repeating the same actions until I was satisfied with myself. Determination and concentration were also necessary as I took pride in my dogs’ abilities to recognise my commands and in the appearance of my house in TheSims. Empathy and socioemotional skills felt important whenever I had to convince my neighbours in Animal Crossing to not move to other cities (I still remember when Dora, my best friend in the city, left 🙁 ). In addition, because I was in control of what was happening and as, unlike in ‘real-life games’, the consequences of my decisions seemed tangible (at least within the virtual-world), I felt fully responsible for my choices.

I then decided to do some research to see if this connection between the legendary educational method and video games had been intentionally implemented by game designers. To my surprise, during a TedTalk, Will Wright (the creator of TheSims and Spore) cites the Montessori method as a source of inspiration for his virtual universes, which are created with the desire to let users explore the game and learn from it by themselves rather than providing specific guidance. I then found books (at the end of the blog) discussing the topic, unfortunately I only have access to the review/summary of one them, so I can’t discuss the authors’ conclusions.

Overall, with the exception of TheSims teaching me how to budget (before I found out about cheats), I really do think I haven’t learnt any practical real-life skills through video games like the Montessori method aims to do. But I surely did develop less concrete ones, such as empathy, responsibility and determination.

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Video Games and Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age by Kurt Squire (2011). – Review here

Technology and digital media in the early years : tools for teaching and learning by Chip Donohue (2014).

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3 Comments

  • LTMicajkov
    Posted November 6, 2019 at 12:40 pm 0Likes

    Thank you for this nice blog!
    I went to a Montessori elementary school and high-school myself. Therefore this comes close to home. I like the way you make the link between the Montessori method and video games. Because a lot of the ideas for the Montessori method are actually based on the idea of playing, learning through experience, by doing things, actively engaging with an object or a situation. I think this is very much something that also happens in gaming. Playing and learning go very much hand in hand, I think. Very interesting!

  • Connor
    Posted November 6, 2019 at 2:45 pm 0Likes

    I like this post!
    It’s important to remember that games take a lot of time and effort to make, and so every mechanic within them has been designed to act a certain way, to influence a player in a certain way. Games can certainly be designed to push the player towards the idea of using empathetic and/or rational reasoning to solve their problems, thus stimulating them in a positive way! Simultaneously however, subtle design decisions can be (and are) used to negatively impact players, the most obvious example being the fact that many games, especially those made for mobile phones, have essentially been turned into virtual casinos. They use a method known as ‘hook, habit, hobby’ to convince players that spending lots of money on, for example virtual currency, is not only accepted but worthy of praise.
    So while video games can certainly be used to stimulate positive behavior, it’s best to be at least a little bit wary.

    • IsottaT
      Posted December 19, 2019 at 8:16 pm 0Likes

      Hi! I never thought about mobile phones’ games as ‘virtual casinos’. That could be something that should be discussed even further!

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