Game on!: Video games becoming part of educational experience for Utah students

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Photo credit: Josh Conlee, Pleasant Grove High School Student

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah (ABC4) – Pleasant Grove High School teacher Audra Yocom was amazed to hear how well her students were working as a team while playing together at the state championships last year.

“It was almost artistic to hear the way that they communicated with each other,” Yocom describes to ABC4.com. “When the vibe was on, it was amazing to listen to.”

Cheers filled the air, fist bumps and high fives were abound, and by the end, the team from Pleasant Grove took home the title.

This wasn’t, however, in a traditional athletics setting. Yocom’s students were playing Rocket League, a popular video game where a team of three players essentially play a soccer game while driving cars.

It might seem silly to see a fusion of gaming and education together. The two worlds have typically been pitted together as natural rivals, much like Mario and Bowser, or Sonic and Dr. Eggman.

Recently, however, educators have caught on to an unmistakable truth: gaming is a big business and a viable career path.

They’re even going as far as hosting esports festivals, such as the ones hosted by the Ken Garff Success in Education Foundation for middle schoolers on Thursday and high schoolers on Friday. Over 700 students from 61 different schools across 18 different districts are expected to participate in the fun this week.

According to Statista, the video game market in the United States alone is valued at $65.49 billion. Gaming, which has been around in some form since the days of the classic Atari home system, which by the way, was invented by Nolan Bushnell, a Clearfield native and graduate of the University of Utah. Knowing the impact gaming already has and the potential to further disrupt the entertainment industry, Bushnell’s alma mater has launched one of the best Entertainment Arts and Engineering programs in the nation.

It’s now possible to major in video games, or even get a comprehensive master’s degree in gaming at the University of Utah. Getting a scholarship for gaming is also now a reality.

The potential doesn’t seem to have an end in sight for youngsters looking to get into gaming. Yocom, who also works as the Director of Technology Education for the Ken Garff Success in Education program, says that finding a fulfilling career in video games nowadays is not unlike finding a job in another entertainment business, like say, sports.

“Take the Jazz, for example, you’ve got the pro players on the Utah Jazz, but you’ve also got the announcers, you’ve got the team managers, you’ve got the coaches, you’ve got the event planners, there’s so much that goes into a team or an event like this, but the career opportunities expand well beyond just the pro player,” she says.

Speaking of which, the Jazz organization itself has gotten into the esports scene by fielding its own squad of gamers to wear the team’s logo as part of the NBA 2K League. To have a proven entity put their support behind gaming speaks highly of the hobby/profession’s potential to be a real job, Yocom believes. Young fans of the professional pixelated basketball stars can learn a lot from the team.

“It’s interesting to see an establishment like the Jazz get into it because then the kids can see that there’s more to it than just sitting and playing games, you’ve got to condition, you’ve got to train, you’ve got to take care of yourself in order to perform well.”

And even if none of the kids who will play either Rocket League or Super Smash Bros. in a competitive setting at Pleasant Grove High School this week don’t make it as a pro gamer, the lessons learned by school-sanctioned gaming are still extremely valuable.

“It’s a lot about the social-emotional connection that students get in a gaming club, as well as getting students who may not be traditionally part of a traditional athletics team some sort of competitive environment and atmosphere to learn teamwork, some resiliency, how to lose gracefully, and how to win gracefully.”

Of course, being the player of the character that the other characters are forced to applaud at the end of a Super Smash Bros. melee is undoubtedly the most satisfying part of the game.

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