Our Job Is To Help Them Make Something Of It

Now, after more than a year out of the classroom, Wataru, 16, has returned to school, though not a normal one. He and around two dozen teenagers like him are part of the inaugural class of Japan’s first e-sports high school, a private institution in Tokyo that opened last year.
The academy, which mixes traditional class work with hours of intensive video game training, was founded with the intention of feeding the growing global demand for professional gamers. But educators believe they have stumbled onto something more valuable: a model for getting students like Wataru back in school.


I came across this article in the New York Times, and found it to be fascinating. Wataru, the sixteen year old mentioned in the article, had dropped out of school after the pandemic, because “he was getting nothing from school”. He preferred to stay at home and play video games the whole day.

This school though, the one featured in the article, is a school in which you’re taught competition strategies for games such as Fortnite and Valorant. Or you might be given – and this was my favorite sentence in the article – “a scientific lecture about the relative merits of Street Fighter characters”. And it’s not just theory, of course – post this lecture, the students then formed groups to put the lesson into action.

This is what a classroom looks like:


If you’re curious, and are able to speak and understand the language, here’s what the infrastructure of the school looks like – it has forty Galleria XA7C-R37 gaming PC’s. The curriculum includes the following genres of video games: FPS, third-person shooter, RTS and MOBA. I don’t know what these genres are, for I don’t play video games all that much.

But I applaud the initiative, and hope it scales, both within Japan and in other parts of the world.

You may ask why I applaud a school that teaches students how to play video games. And my answer is that I’m actually quite agnostic about how an educational institute is weird. All I ask is that it be sufficiently weird in at least one way. This particular school is weird about video games, but what about schools that are weird in other ways? What about a school that teaches you about dancing, for example?

Lynne’s gift for dancing was discovered by a doctor. She had been underperforming at school, so her mother took her to the doctor and explained about her fidgeting and lack of focus. After hearing everything her mother said, the doctor told Lynne that he needed to talk to her mother privately for a moment. He turned on the radio and walked out. He then encouraged her mother to look at Lynne, who was dancing to the radio. The doctor noted that she was a dancer, and encouraged Lynne’s mother to take her to dance school


And if you’ve been tempted to sneer while reading about these newfangled ideas about alternate education – “video games and dancing in schools! Hmph, whatever next?!” – note that the first story is from December 2022, while the other story is from sometime in the 1930’s. Everything with Sir Ken Robinson in it is always worth watching, but this video is a particularly fascinating one. Gillian Lynne’s story comes on at around the 15 minute mark, if you’d rather not watch the whole thing, but I hope you do.

But whether it is video games today or dancing a century ago – or whatever else might be around a hundred years from now, for that matter – the point isn’t about how young people learn best. Well, it is, but the first point that all of us would do well to internalize is that everybody learns differently.

And the idea that everybody learns best by sitting in a classroom and listening to a person drone on for hours on end is one that has been rejected by students year after year after year. But because it is cheap, scalable and easy to endlessly replicate, it is now a part of our culture. To the extent that we will think of students who are unable to be a part of this dreary ritual as being not normal.

Of course they’re not normal, none of them are. They’re special, in their own way, as all of us are. That was the message in the brilliant talk given by Sir Ken Robinson. That everybody is talented in their own way.

And his call to action at the end of the talk is the title of today’s blogpost.

Our job isn’t to browbeat our students into downcast and sullen obedience and compliance. Our job is to figure out what motivates them to learn, by figuring out their special talent.

And then to help them make something of it.

Consoles, Competition and Comprehension

If you are studying microeconomics, whether in undergrad or postgrad courses, it can sometimes get a little too theoretical. Or that, at any rate, is how I used to feel about the more abstruse parts of advanced micro. And while memorizing the millionth derivation in order to regurgitate it in an examination, I would often wonder if there was any relevance of what I was attempting to study to the real world outside.

If you, today, as a student of micro share this opinion, let me ask you this: are you interested in video games? Are you living in fond hope that a PS5 will land up in your living room? Or are you figuring out ways to get XBox Pass?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, I’m guessing that you like playing video games. Do you know how the industry started? Do you know what the Gang of Four was all about? Do you know how different business models in the industry originated? How they evolved and why, and with what consequences? Had you heard about the Great Video Game Crash of 1983? I knew a little bit (but not a lot) about the answers to all of these questions, save for the last.

But the reason I bring this up is because Ben Thompson has an exellent essay out on the evolution of the gaming industry, with a lovely recap of all of what happened, and why. You’ll learn about vertical and horizontal integration, lock-ins, attempts to create monopolies, attempts at preserving monopoloies, about how business models had to change to account for changing strategies, changing technologies and changing aspirations on part of creators, consumers and corporations. It’s head-spinning stuff!

It begins with a description of the world’s first video game (OXO, 1952, in case you were wondering) and ends with how the FTC (perhaps) doth take things too far with the Activision acquisition by Microsoft. And in the interim, it touches upon names that will evoke nostalgia among folks of a certain vintage, and curiosity among folks of a more recent vintage.

If you are a student struggling with micro but happen to love video games, this essay might motivate you to read more about the evolution of the video game industry, and understand micro better in the process.

If you are a teacher struggling with helping students fall in love with micro, consider reading and using this essay.

And a meta lesson: a great way to learn about microeconomics is to pick your industry of choice, and ask how it has evolved over time, and why. The answers to these questions is a great way to become a better student of economics.

If you’re looking for suggestions in this regard: music, television, movies, gaming, publishing, hospitality and sports (football, cricket and tennis would be great examples). And if I may offer one piece of contrarian and possibly heretical advice – begin with the industry and work your way to the textbook, rather than the other way around.

Etc: Links for 13th December, 2019

  1. Via Girish U, a lovely read on video games, and archeology… of mind bending types.
    “The mystery maze table in Entombed reminds us that, even with a good record, fully understanding a game is another thing entirely. Maybe we’ll never quite grasp it. Entombed presents us – somewhat ironically – with a dead-end.

    The instruction manual, to be fair, did warn us. “Before you know it,” it read, “you’ll be entombed!””

  2. “Gods begins with a sweeping proposition Modern thinking began when man abandoned the belief that events are due to the whim of the gods and embraced the notion that we are active, independent agents who can manage risks. Thus in the worldview of ancient Greece, a man’s destiny swayed with the whim of the gods, logic prevailed over experimentation, and the use of letters for numbers inhibited man’s ability to calculate. But by the thirteenth century, new mental tools were in place the Hindu-Arabic numbering system, algebra, accounting, and other necessary equipment for the first insights into the laws of chance.”
    A review of Against the Gods, by Peter Bernstein. Lovely book, lovely review. Do read both!
  3. “Even if you don’t consider yourself a particularly superstitious person, you probably say “bless you” when someone sneezes, just in case the devil should decide to steal their soul – as our ancestors thought possible during a sneeze.”
    The Conversation on superstitions.
  4. Via the Browser, from the Paris Review, a thought-provoking article on superstitions.
  5. And why all the talk about superstitions? Check the date! Well, and the day!