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Video games being introduced into classrooms at Ysleta ISD

Video game (credit: KFOX14/CBS4)
Video game (credit: KFOX14/CBS4)
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For some people, video games have been around their entire lives.

You might remember playing some of the original games like super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Pacman, and even as far back as pong.

“When I was growing up, I play a lot of video games,” said Matheus Zezarotto, a game researcher at New Mexico State University.

“When I was a little kid, my dad brought home the video game “Adventure" which was one of the original mysteries,” said Amy Smith Muise, outreach coordinator at NMSU.

Other people have seen it evolve into what it is today— having access to millions of games on your phone, computer, and console.

“People just convert anything that you give them into games,” said Phoebe Toups Dugas, Associate Professor of Computer Science at NMSU.

Some believed the first video game was created in the late 50s by a physicist named William Higinbotham.

It was a simple two-player tennis game.

It was played on a little screen and controlled by aluminum controllers to serve the ball from one side of the court to the other.

Toups said the improvement of technology has really helped the video game industry.

”As processors get faster, as the memory comes more available as there’s more and more storage, right, you can build more and more complicated games,” said Toups.

Long gone are the days when you need to insert a cartridge into a console.

Now, you just download a game on your phone, computer or tablet—and those games are more realistic than ever.

“We have definitely seen an advent of really usable systems that can incorporate the real world. And by that, I mean augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality. All of these things are basically able to use high-resolution sensing to track human bodies and human positions,” said Toups.

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While many of us play for entertainment, modern gaming has raised the stakes from playing with friends to playing for your school, scholarships, and even cash.

Ysleta Independent School District is the first school district to bring gaming into the classroom.

“The district offers a program from Pre-K all the way through 12th grade,” said Erick Buenrostro, a digital resource and content specialist.

He said the video games used—while fun— are also a learning mechanism for kids.

“So when we talk about what this does to our kids is you develop quite a few senses along the way. Our program is based on 4 pillars which include academic success, includes social-emotional,” said Buenrostro.

Even though we might see Mario slipping on a banana peel on the track as a fun entertaining game, Buenrostro said it teaches kids navigation skills.

He adds that action games help students come up with their own strategies.

“Our students are learning those skills that really take them to the next level of team building— they really get to cooperate with kids,” said Buenrostro.

While in traditional school sports students tend to compete with other kids in their league, most don’t even leave the state, but with eSports, you can take them hundreds of miles away without having to leave El Paso.

“Now we have middle and high school students that are competing in the middle and high school league, which includes everybody from the Nation and Canada. and in some cases, some of those can become international leagues,” said Buenrostro.

Buenrostro said more than one-thousand kids are in the program right now and only expects it to grow in the future.

“We served a very social economic disadvantaged population and the fact that we get to provide students with some of this equipment to be able to participate in schools, and feel at home is rather incredible,” added Buenrostro.

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As a growing number of schools embrace video games as a teaching tool, NMSU is helping to make that transition possible.

NMSU creates educational video games that help students in subjects like math and science.

Smith said several of the games they have built are being used in schools across the borderland.

“Teachers are incredibly creative and resourceful about how they use games and I think that's just getting better and better because educational games have been around long enough that people are used to incorporating them into the lesson,” said Smith.

Smith said that what was once a distraction can now be a support for students learning new math equations.

“I think teachers actually thought of games as something that kids did instead of doing their homework and that's probably still true now, but I think that we really are getting to the point where educational games are seen as a valid tool,” added Smith.

While several of these games are fun, it takes a lot of research, time and dedication to bring them to life.

Evan Evans is a vital part of getting these educational games off the ground. He helps create the animations used in some of the games.

“So, if they are trying to learn some basic algebra, we have a game that covers those basic concepts or just having a more fun way to introduce concepts to a student, I feel like really helps them understand the concept,” said Evans.

“We do research before we start creating, and developing the games, so as to understand the audience or the content that we are creating,” said Zezarotto.

“So a lot of the studios like the ones that create games for the Xbox they’re huge. They’re huge teams. Everybody has a specialty,” said Adrian Aguirre, Instructional Designer at NMSU. “We are a very small team, maybe like 20 people that make the games and so we play multiple roles.”

Several of the team members have kids that have helped them fix any defects the games may have.

“Whenever we had games come out from the learning lab, my kids were there to help test them, and to give me feedback,” said Smith.

“We tested with my kids obviously, and also with the kids at the school they went to and so it was really fun,” said Aguirre.

Just like schools are investing in the video game industry, many businesses here in El Paso are doing the same.

“The concept here is we started out as a land center. people come in and people will rent out a computer from us and they end up sitting down like this gentleman right here,” said Nick Dobard, owner of Glicthc Gaming Center. “People come in, they play games and have a lot of fun."

Dobard’s business has been around for almost 5 years.

He’s also hosted several esports competitions.

“We had modern warfare tournaments, rainbow 6, we do a lot of leagues of legends and things like that," he said.

He said that when COVID-19 struck, it hit the switch on those events.

“We literally had no business as far as gamers coming in, it really scared the community,” said Dobard.

Now, he’s hoping to reset the competition.

“We are talking to some schools; we have been talking to some other people about redoing things like that,” he added.

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