FPS (First Person Shooter) games are incredibly popular, and they're becoming harder for scholastic esports teams to ignore. With hundreds of millions of active players for FPS titles, there's considerable student interest in these games.
Whether they belong in a school setting is a hotly contended issue that is currently taking place amongst administrators of esports teams. When approaching this topic there are a number of considerations that need to be made to decide if FPS games (or specific game titles) might be suitable for their students and schools.
Many colleges and high schools have introduced certain FPS games into their esports programs already, but there are others who have intentionally avoided them. Age, of course, plays a major part as college and high school students might possess a maturity of cognitive development where younger students don't.
This consideration might be the most obvious, does the game title contain any elements of gore or bloodshed? If so, it's probably not the safest bet, especially for younger groups. Titles like Call of Duty Warzone do contain elements of blood and gore, and the violence in the game is overall more realistic in its appearance. CS:GO and Rainbow Six Siege, while having lifelike weaponry, shooting and setting, do not contain these gory scenes. Neither do Apex Legends, Fortnite, Overwatch or Valorant. When players are hit in the game, might react by falling, but there are no other residual effects.
Many games have taken on a cartoonish appearance and are much less realistic. Some are set in fantasy worlds and the characters have special abilities. This has resulted, in some instances, in these games appealing to a younger demographic. Since many students might be playing these games at home already, clearly their parents already consent, and therefore might be easier to implement. Most of these games still have guns (or lasers like in Overwatch), but don't necessarily glorify violence in obscene ways.
If approached correctly, FPS esports might be an overwhelming success and play an instrumental role in bolstering student engagement and promote the soft skills of teamwork, communication, and strategic thinking and hard skills like hand-eye coordination, reaction speed, and spatial awareness.
Jody Farmer, Assistant Director of Intercollegiate Esports for The University of Oklahoma Esports & Co-Curricular Innovation department, EsportScholar instructor, and military veteran, offers a different vision of the benefits of FPS games:
FPS games help teach tactics and are played a lot like Chess. There are only so many moves and counter moves to be made on any FPS map. All this is to say that FPS are a great way to become quicker in critical thinking skills, something needed in Higher Education and in today's business world. So, yes, FPS have a place in schools. But you need the right programs and curriculum to go with them.
FPS games are even used for their benefit by prestigious universities like West Point. Victor Castro, Director at Army West Point Esports describes how competitive esports are a conduit for learning, following the Kolb method, an instructional design theory that active experimentation leads to concrete experience. Of course, for West Point, FPS does fit the purpose of their military training, but still, Victor highlights how others too might find these games useful for their purposes:
FPS, regardless of its design, offers deliberate practice towards effective communications, strategies, using the right tool for the right job and the functioning of a small unit team.
School esports programs with FPS titles might end up becoming more popular because of them. These are the games that many want to play, meeting them halfway would boost the number of students who participated in esports, making programs more robust in the process. Among a younger demographic, gaming, and certain FPS games are a core fixture in their generation's culture. Chris Smith, Founder of BIG Esports relays a personal story that profoundly illustrates this point.
You know how as kids we used to play "cops and robbers?" Running around pretending to shoot at each other? My partner was at work and some 5-year-olds were waiting for their father to pick up some electrical supplies. One kid turned to another and said "do you want to play Fortnite?" and they started running around pretending to shoot each other. So next time you ask yourself whether gaming has penetrated society, that's your answer.
This is a debate of suitability that runs to the root of cultural moderation, it's an echo of similar opinions about violence depicted in film, TV, or music. Within the world of gaming it is among one of the longest running issues for the industry among its critics.
The ultimate question is whether playing violent games (or consuming other forms of violent media) leads to that person committing a violent act in the real world, which opens a whole other can of worms about causation that is almost impossible to reach an absolute determination. There are plenty of people who might play violent games, but are by no means violent people. There might be other people who are violent and happen to play violent games, is this a coincidence or a byproduct? Did playing those violent games the primary factor responsible for making them a violent person or were there many other factors at play? These debates always run to a standstill. From the perspective of psychologists and lawmakers, there are no persuasive proof of a link. The late Justice Antonio Scalia, ruling on this issue in a Supreme Court decision, stated how there's limited evidence to suggest that violent video games lead to actual instances of violence:
“They show at best some correlation between exposure to violent entertainment and minuscule real-world effects, such as children feeling more aggressive or making louder noises in the few minutes after playing a violent game than after playing a nonviolent game.”
The biggest concern from the perspective of school administrators is not necessarily this philosophical rumination, it's more a question of image and public relations.
Many school administrators might be afraid of the turmoil FPS might cause amongst parent groups, seeing an easier path forward by circumventing them entirely. As a school community, they might not want to be perceived as promoting violence in any way.
Consider this worst-case scenario: a student who participates on an esports FPS team perpetrates an act of violence. The school would then be subjected to intense public scrutiny and condemnation. Beyond the scope of the moderation and suitability perspective, this might be an extreme example, but it is still a consideration.
There are many ways of approaching this topic, but ultimately decisions do have to be made. Should FPS games be in schools? What's your take?