Editorial: Gaming policy can be adjusted in the interest of fairness and effectiveness

The Oracle

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In November, the administration announced its plans to enforce a policy that prohibits gaming on all school computers in order to increase their accessibility for educational use. While its aims are commendable, this gaming policy does not address several significant issues in both implementation and enforcement. The policy is flawed because it unfairly targets only a specific medium of entertainment and it relies on a vague and inconsistent system of enforcement. The administration should implement a better-defined policy that clearly determines which activities qualify as games that detract from student education, and should take specific measures to ensure efficacy and objectivity.

According to Principal Katya Villalobos, the administration’s main goal in enforcing this policy is to ensure that community-funded technology is used only for its intended educational purposes. By eliminating gaming, the administration believes that computers will become more accessible for academic and school-related use. However, while well-intended, the policy’s approach only addresses part of the problem. While gaming can be a distraction and can take away from academic use of computers, it is not the only type of media students use for entertainment. In and outside of the classroom, social media and online video sites similarly attract students’ attention. By prohibiting only the specific practice of gaming, the policy fails to truly solve the problem of inaccessibility due to non-educational usage of computers. The policy does not recognize that inappropriate use of other outlets of entertainment, such as Netflix, Hulu and YouTube have the same impact on education that gaming does. Thus, eliminating gaming does not eliminate the whole problem. Students who previously occupied their time with gaming will naturally move to fill that time with other forms of unproductive entertainment, and join the ranks of students who clog computers with movies, television shows and YouTube videos. Students who wish to use the computers for schoolwork will still be obstructed, even with the prohibition, because the policy fails to address the other unproductive activities that take place on school computers.

Furthermore, the label “gaming” falls in a gray area. The policy specifically prohibits “playing games or online gaming.” While there are some games such as “World of Warcraft” and “Halo” that are obviously unproductive, the policy does not clearly distinguish what qualifies as a game. For some students and teachers, games such as “Sporcle” can constitute educational practice and even test preparation. There is no clear specification within the policy for the somewhat educational activities that can ultimately be beneficial to student education. This makes enforcement subjective and potentially rules out games that may be positive academic influences.

Additionally, the enforcement system for the gaming policy is unclear. Consequences for misconduct are ambiguous, and the policy lacks a clear, methodical enforcement process. According to Villalobos, there is no definite set of rules for penalizing repeat offenders. The administration does not use the traditional, concrete route of a step-by-step disciplinary procedure, which is present in policies such as the tardy and absence policy. Instead, the policy uses a hazy enforcement system that subjectively gauges the severity of the punishment to the magnitude of the infringement. For example, Villalobos cited that the most likely scenario would entail a student being given a warning after being caught gaming. Should a student passively refuse the command of the enforcer, that student could be asked to leave. Punishment would include official filing of a referral only in the case when a student acts in direct defiance and verbally or physically refuses to leave the premises. Apart from that hypothetical, enforcement is fairly ineffective. A student could come back to the Academic Center or library every day to play games on computers and conceivably never receive any punishment beyond warnings. The disciplinary portion of the policy is simply not strict enough to prevent students from gaming. The negligible consequence of possibly being asked to stop is not harsh enough to stop a student from violating the policy. It lacks a specific agenda with punitive measures for each type of offense that other policies, such as those against tardiness, include.

Ultimately, the newly enforced gaming policy is flawed, and does not efficiently reinforce its well-intentioned purpose. It fails to consider the interests of everyone—gamers and non-gamers alike. It is not a comprehensive solution, since ending gaming is not the sole solution to the problem of accessibility the policy tries to tackle. To resolve this, the administration should reform the gaming policy to accommodate all non-educational forms of entertainment, including websites such as Hulu and Netflix. Furthermore, the school’s definition of gaming should be made clear to students and enforcers, and highlight specific guidelines as to which activities are permitted and which are not. The administration should also lay out a step-by-step plan to effectively enforce and guarantee compliance to the reformed policy. The administration should find a more comprehensive and effective means of ensuring ways to keep on-campus computer usage limited to academics, for the benefit of the students.