Can Time Spent Playing Online Games Help Teens Develop Cultural Competency?

Gaming companies and learning experts often disagree on the effects of online gaming among teens.

Despite the fact that we have watched our children play online games for decades, and that a whole generation of gamers has grown up without civilization collapsing, there is still an intense fear among many that online gaming is "dangerous" and has no positive long-term value.

Every few weeks we come across stories from psychologists and others detailing how battling opponents in games like “World of WarCraft” can make children have violent tendencies. We have also heard stories about online video games making kids hyper and anti-social.

Within this backdrop, it is fairly safe to conclude that the fact that researchers today have begun looking into ways to introduce video games to accelerate classroom learning might be unnerving to many. And yet still others are able to extoll gaming’s virtues, including the authors of a 2014 American Psychological Association article, “The Benefits of Playing Video Games” which surveyed the landscape of video games. In it they identify four types of positive impact that video games have on the kids who play them: cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social.

Why would gaming be approved in schools in the first place, and can online gaming really help teens develop cultural competency?  I will dive into this a bit deeper below.

One Path to Cultural Competence

The reason is simple – video gaming online appears to be one of the unique ways to cultivate cultural competence.

Our world is a connected world.  Through television, travel, and the Internet we have opportunity to intersect with others around the globe in various capacities. Gaming online is another means of opportunity for youth to connect and team with people all over the world.  The opportunity for leaders is to harness the potential of this reality to see that deeper learning takes place.

To live and thrive in this world, today’s children must learn the intricacies of a connected globe. Anthony Johnson, Director of the Center for Global Education at the Asia Society, calls this “global competence.”

Anthony makes it clear that if the current generation is serious about bringing the world together, which I also advocate for strongly, then they must arm the current youth with knowledge and skills in global competence.

But, What Exactly is Global Competence?

I was reminded of the Asia Society’s excellent framework in a recent related session I attended while keynoting at the ASCD conference last month. Their recent report titled “Teaching for Global Competence in a Rapidly Changing World" defines global competence as a combination of four domains, which are the ability to:

1. Explore local, intercultural, and global issues

A globally competent individual combines knowledge about the world with critical reasoning whenever they form opinions about a global problem.

2. Understand and appreciate the perspectives and worldviews of others

Being globally competent brings with it a willingness to look at global problems from different perspectives.

3. Engage in appropriate, open, and effective interactions across cultures

When you are globally competent, you can engage in respectful dialogue without undermining marginalized groups.

4. Take action for collective well-being and sustainable development

Globally competent individuals are ready and willing to respond to local, global, or intercultural issues for the common good.

Conclusion: Online Games Can Teach Many of These Skills

Games can help kids appreciate cultural diversity and become global thinkers. Game play online often requires teaming and that can be with anyone, anywhere around the world.  Unique partnerships can develop, which while simple and focused on game play, actually do lay a foundation for global cooperation. Online gaming can be one method, among many, that can assist and provide young people with simple skills in cultural competence.  When reflected on and combined with other methods, such as my Ravi Unites Schools initiative, the overall effect and impact can be significant.

What is needed is the intention to provide stakeholders with the necessary insight to make video gaming a tool that we can confidently use to teach cultural competence as we seek to prepare the future generation for a peaceful and economically productive coexistence.  I aim to provide some of that intentional insight into how to utilize what currently engages youth via my keynotes and to help educators turn experiences like these into deeper learnings about cultural competence.

Does this topic pique your interest? Consider booking Ravi for a keynote at your next education leadership meeting or conference. Get the conversation started by reaching out to Ravi at