“It has been an utter nightmare for me since he got that iPad…”
I’ll never forget these words during a parent meeting. On so many levels, this parent was genuinely upset about her son having a self-managed iPad. A part was because his device had seemingly taken over his whole life, both at school and at home. Another part was due to the fact that this parent meeting was happening because her son had made some wrong choices regarding the use of his iPad. But most importantly, it was because she didn’t understand how her son had made these bad choices in the first place. And to be honest, neither did we. How had an iPad game led her son to bully another boy in his class? Enter Clash of Clans.
Before I continue writing my thoughts on this (and that is all they are, my own personal thoughts), I would like to state that I have never played Clash of Clans. When my students talk about it, it’s like they’re speaking another language.
The afore mentioned parent meeting was painful. My student, who I will anonymously refer to as ‘Buddy’, had made the wrong choice of bullying a classmate because he hadn’t ‘played his part in defending his clan’. From what I’ve read, Clash of Clans is a “…strategy game where, like many other strategy games out there, the purpose is to build one’s village, unlock different warriors, raid resources from other villages, create a clan and much, much more.” (Source https://clashofclans.wikia.com/wiki/Clash_of_Clans_Wiki). So basically, it’s a strategy game which allows the players to collaborate with others to build a community which everyone is responsible of protecting. Alright then. So how can a collaborative game such as this cause reactions like this from its players? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t it promote collaboration and team work? And wait, isn’t this the same as any other team-based game? Not really, here’s why.
Let’s take a friendly game of soccer. There are two teams. Both teams have great players and some who are still learning the game. Kids can be hard on themselves and each other in this scenario as well. They have captains who pick and choose their players. They can get physical with the members of their own team that are not playing ‘as well’ as others. And sure, there is usually unsportsmanlike conduct amongst players which both teachers and parents are all too familiar with and usually deal with very well. So what’s the difference? Well, in this soccer scenario, kids have to be present in order to be a part of the game. They have to show up and be there physically for their skills to be taken into consideration by others. The same goes with tag, Pictionary, and other games where actually being there during the moment of play is crucial to the team’s performance. But in Clash, players can be in separate locations to play, and in order to protect their ‘villages’, they need all need to be online at the same time. If a player is not online, his absence can be the catalyst for a ‘raid’ or ‘attack’. In contrast to a soccer game where kids need so many factors to play: a field, a ball, parents who pick them off and drop them off, a uniform, cleats, etc; Clash only needs the iPad and player.
So here’s what happened. Buddy claimed that “Their (imaginary) village got (imaginarily) raided by some (imaginary) enemies and IT WAS ALL HIS (the bullied boy’s) FAULT for, well, not being online when the rest of the group were…!!!” The reason the boy was not able to be online at the time of play was irrelevant, and it didn’t stop Buddy and his other Clash playing buddies to come down on their classmate hard for this. So much for a community who protects their own, in real life, they were ready to throw one of their village members to the wolves.
I know what you’re thinking. Why is Buddy, a grade 5 student, playing a game that he probably shouldn’t even have on his iPad in the first place? Why hasn’t his device been taken away from him and the game deleted from his iPad? Why do grade 5 students (11-12 yrs old) have self managed iPads anyway??
I’m not an expert on this subject, but as our school is the first to try self-managed devices with our elementary school students, this is how I would answer those questions: Because with self-managed devices, there will be some doors open for our learners that we want them to experience, and that has its ups and downs. Because taking the device away will not teach them to make better choices, but rather take the choice away. Because this is the world of the natives and they are learning from a completely set of mistakes than we did.
Even though the title of this post is why I clash with this game, I have to emphasize that I don’t think this case of cyberbullying was the game’s fault. Whether we allow it or not, some of our students will play these games and in turn, make choices based on what they learn from them, good and bad. We need to have preventative measures in place to avoid this behavior from students. This doesn’t mean that all teachers should download Clash of Clans and play it in order to understand it. It also doesn’t mean that all schools should have an iron-clad AUP before the devices are given to students. And to be honest, our school is still working on these preventative measures. This is a whole new ball game. And I ‘clash’ with the game simply because I wish I knew how to better prepare my students when making choices based on playing these games.
I also want that prevention come in the form of empowerment for parents and teachers. The words Buddy’s mom said in that parent meeting made a huge impact in the way that I see self-managed devices. I want that these measures give us the confidence to be able to support our kids without having to know everything. When a child is doing something on their devices we don’t understand, that we don’t hold the device responsible if bad choices are made from this use, but rather build on trust between us, our kids, their use of the devices, and their fellow device users. And when I think about it, it’s like creating a village in Clash of Clans, the model of a community who counts on each other for the improvement of the group. In this mentality, Clash and I don’t clash at all.