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Good Info About How Games Can Be Educational Tools

November 5th, 2009 No comments

I suppose a lengthy discussion of new media literacy, such as the one in which we’re engaged in our class would be incomplete without a fuller discussion of the use of videogames as educational tools. Henry Jenkins, who was the primary author of Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture, is a central figure in the field. James Paul Gee, whose video I’ve posted below, also has some excellent ideas on how games are good learning tools, as does Ian Bogost, whose article “Videogames and the Future of Education,” serves as a rousing call to action, urging concerned citizens to think more critically about K-12 education in the United States.

Here’s a link to a very good video with James Paul Gee: http://vimeo.com/4513412. I was unable to embed it.

One of the reasons that commercial games, which are not designed with any pedagogical goal in mind, are so effective at teaching its player how to play them is because of the profit motivation at work for the game developers. Gee explains, in his article, “Good Video Games and Good Learning,” that, ” If no one could learn these games, no one would buy them—and players will not accept easy, dumbed down, or short games. At a deeper level, however, challenge and learning are a large part of what makes good video games motivating and entertaining.” Ahh. I think Dr. Gee is on to something here. Because games are “long, hard, and complex” as Gee asserts, why would young people give a damn about learning to play them? Because game designers have become experts at keeping people engaged in their products. One of the reasons they can do this is by doing a fantastic job of teaching players how to play the game. Unfortunately, the public education system is not competing with anyone else, so they don’t have the incentive to be effective the way videogame designers do.

At the start of the video that I posted earlier, Gee is quick to point out that he isn’t discussing educational games per se- games designed with the purpose of teaching players something academic in nature. Rather, Gee is interested in analyzing the way games teach players the rules of the game, such as in tutorials. For Gee, “educational games” are another thing entirely. Simulations, such as Madden NFL Football, which most of you have already had the misfortune of hearing about from me, fits this mold nicely. As do role-playing games (RPGS, or in the case of massively multiplayer rpg, MMPRPGs), which need to teach the player scores of different functions to successfully navigate the terrain, engage in the battle system, and work through the story. At the heart of both types of games is the question of problem solving: how do I use the affordances of the game mechanics to find a solution to this problem. In the case of Madden, the player must determine whether a run or pass play is most appropriate in a given situation. For a RPG, a player must use the right piece of equipment, the right weapon, or the right spell to defeat an enemy. While some games are more complex than others, Gee points to the problem-solving nature all well designed games as a place we can look to where applied knowledge trumps rote memorization.