Traditional Ed is a Battle Royale

Quickly, the Battle Royale genre has gained increasing popularity amongst our youth. The genre includes such aspects as 100+ individuals battling each other, only one person survives/wins, and the randomization of where/how you start. To put it into a very relatable perspective, Hunger Games is an incredibly successful battle royale themed young adult series. Furthermore, the most trending young adult literature is dystopian with other similar series such as DivergentThe Maze Runner, and others. There have been quite a few different video games to utilize this genre, but one in particular seems to have captured audiences like none other, becoming a meme of sorts: Fortnite. I’m not going to spend much (if any) time on the game itself as the theme is what I’m interested in, so if you’re curious about the game itself click the link. It is free to play after all.

The battle royale model and its interest to our youth should come as absolutely no surprise. When you juxtapose it with our traditional / Prussian / Factory model of education, you will see a great many similarities.

  1. You are forced to play as the environment will kill you if you remain stagnant (school attendance is compulsory and much of education is coercive)
  2. Every “player” must play as an individual (students must achieve goals on their own and are even assessed individually when completing group work).
  3. You are pitted against others looking to achieve the same goal of coming out on top to increase ranking (i.e., valedictorian).
  4. Player’s start in very different positions, some with immediate access to better tools increasing odds of success (for students this includes zip codes — family and school wealth, prior knowledge, family dynamic, passion for subjects, etc.)

There are likely more nuanced connections as well, but for the sake of this blog the aforementioned points will suffice.

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When you view these points, the popularity of the genre (i.e., Fortnite, Hunger Games, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, etc.), should come as absolutely no surprise. Our children are being raised in this exact fashion. It shoudl be noted, however, that the popularity of Hunger Games came not from the active battle royale but from the revolution. The beloved character was not the Capitol (those in control); it was the underdog, Katniss Everdeen, fighting back against the systemic plague of pitting individuals against themselves (including friends against friends, families against families), eventually taking down the Capitol. The same could be said for Orwell’s 1984. No one was cheering for the thought police, and many find the rather long exposition detailing the corrupt government to be a bit tedious of a read. However, when Winston finally stands up against the ministry we receive an incredibly exciting 3rd part of the novel wishing the best for our subjugated underdog. Alas, we see no such victory as is usually the case.

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Point being, our children are seemingly raised to enjoy the battle royale genre while consistently rooting for its demise — rooting for peace. The original fodder for this burgeoning trend was a dystopian Japanese film released in December of 2000 titled: Battle Royale. The movie depicted, get this, high schoolers (between the ages of 13–15) fighting each other to the death with the tagline reading, “Could you kill your best friend?” Despite Hunger Games being a nearly mirrored rendition of the original Battle Royale, Kinji Fukasaku’s film was banned from the states for nearly 11 years. Much of this push back came from the recency of the Columbine tragedy. Either way, the movie became a massive success with some critics commenting that the film was actually a critique of the Japanese educational system. Speaking of, another interesting note to consider is the popularity of Fortnite (specifically the “solo” mode)and the battle royale genre in congruence with location.

It is interesting to note that of the top two current battle royale style games — Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds — they, together, make up 1/3 of PC gaming in the states. What’s even more interesting to note is where the genre is most popular: America and China have the highest number of players. China’s play time dwarfs America’s with 51% of PC gamers playing the battle royale genre twice as much as their American counterparts. There are certainly many correlations to be made here, but two that are important would absolutely be access to the games as well as the coercive drive of education and academic elitism. While compared to China, America’s educational system would look lackadaisical at best, the correlation still exists. Both countries face a system of ed that favors the every person for themselves — may the best person win — win at all costs mentality, so it is easy to see why the genre is so incredibly popular.

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It’s unfortunate that media of this nature seems to mirror the lives our children are currently living (whether video games or young adult novels). Teenagers are growing up believing that there can only be one at the top, and that spot is more important than anything else. If you aren’t a billionaire by 25 you might as well give up. If you aren’t the top of your class you aren’t cut out for the big leagues. It’s such an aberrant and absurd reality that the best quote to wrap it all up comes from the father of Will Ferrell’s character in the film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” The character later admits he was probably high when he said it, making the absurdity all the more real.

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To understand this is to know that education needs a well overdue reformation. We are no longer preparing students for anything other than the next school year, placing them in battle royale after battle royale, year after year. When the real world approaches, they see there are many spots other than first. They see the profundity of friendship and relationships in general. They wonder why they weren’t taught the value of sharing ideas, creative thinking, team efforts, think tanks, or the value of their own passions. They leave the battle royale seeing the world has much more to offer. Many leave wanting to return in hopes to reform and defeat the battle royale model. We are over 100 years overdue for change. It’s time to rethink the traditional model. It’s time to stop the battle royales.