So, Wait, Video Games Aren’t Rotting Our Brains After All?

I played a lot of this Lemonade Stand game as a kid.

I played a lot of this Lemonade Stand game as a kid, way more than was required by my class assignment.

Okay to be fair, I don’t actually play video games so that title doesn’t really apply to me. I just never got as in to them as some of my friends. Most recently (and I mean like 6 years ago), I would sometimes play my brother’s Grand Theft Auto. Before that, I remember playing a Barney game on some old console and then upgrading to a Pocahontas computer game. But, I also remember that some of my classes encouraged, or even required, us to play video games.

Games like Lemonade Stand, the Schoolhouse Rock series, and the one for tech class where I had to build a structurally sound bridge clearly had some educational value. But, James Paul Gee’s book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, however, suggests that almost all video games possess some scholastic quality. He says that video games possess “better theories of learning are embedded in the video games many children… play than in the schools they attend” (6).

The first half of his book outlines the different reasons why video games are so beneficial to their players. And as someone who only really played educational games before jumping to GTA, which is both violent and seemingly encouraging of immoral behaviors, I was really intrigued by all Gee had to say.

I was one of those people who, yeah on some level recognized that video games taught users skills that other forms of activities or learning don’t, but never gave it that much thought. They were a form of entertainment, not education. Then again, my teachers always said the same about watching too much television, and personally, I think I turned out fine…and even learned a lot of supplementary information in the process.

Gee makes two main arguments: that through video games, players learn a new literacy, one that is different from the knowledge obtained from a classroom and that players also experience situated learning in which they participate and interact with their subject. These games

situate meaning in a multimodal space through embodied experiences to solve problems and reflect on the intricacies of the design of imagined worlds and the design of both real and imagined social relationships in the modern world (48).

Essentially, he is suggesting that video game have the potential to teach users the same skills as those learned in school, but through different means. Some people just do not learn well in a structured classroom, so video games offer an alternative.

Players are constantly

1. Learning to experience (see and act on ) the world in a new way

2. Gaining the potential to join and collaborate with a new affinity group.

3. Developing resources for future learning and problem solving in the semiotic domains to which the game is related.

4. Learning how to think about semiotic domains as design spaces that engage and manipulate people in certain ways and, in turn, help create certain relationships in society among people and groups of people, come of which have important implications for social justice (37-38).

Gee uses the example of Bead Bead in Arcanum to discuss virtual identities.

Gee uses the example of Bead Bead in Arcanum to discuss virtual identities.

By engaging in these games, players are able to assume virtual identities and experiment with different actions without worrying about the consequences. If your character dies, you simply restart the game. You, the player, did not actually die. No bodily harm came to you and now you know what not to do. At the same time, you, the player, are choosing what path to take. You are learning about agency, critical thinking, decision making.

An example of a practice SAT question asking students to find meaning based on context.

An example of a practice SAT question asking students to find meaning based on context.

The learn to play the game, to understand what various words, terms, or situations mean in the context of this virtual world. How is this any different from the kinds of exam questions that require students to read a passage and determine a word’s meaning based on contextual clues?

Of course, Gee says that video games should not replaced classrooms by any meaning. Instead, they should be added to the curriculum, or at the very least, not frowned upon as strictly as they often are.

Gee’s entire book really drives home this point. He tries to show that video games of all caliber have some potential educational quality to them. Players often don’t realize that they are in fact learning, they think they’re just having fun. And don’t we always want to make education entertaining?

To learn more about the second half of his book where he explores other video game examples, such as Lara Croft and Sonic the Hedgehog, read my classmate Jen’s great post here!

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2 thoughts on “So, Wait, Video Games Aren’t Rotting Our Brains After All?

  1. You use Gee’s two main arguments: “that through video games, players learn a new literacy, one that is different from the knowledge obtained from a classroom and that players also experience situated learning in which they participate and interact with their subject.” I agree that everyone has a different style of learning. While some may thrive in a classroom setting, others may prefer a hands-on approach or learning-by-doing technique. Through this approach, we are learning necessary skills – critical thinking, decision making, acting under pressure, etc. While some video games offer more of an educational component or value than others, I do think that it would be a useful way to introduce a new style of learning or the learning principles into the classroom or museum exhibit, both informative and entertaining. As Gee says, “confronting a new form of learning and thinking [can be] both frustrating and life enhancing.” The challenges that video games present to the character (the player), are specific to the character in that video game society and in the individual living in the real world. The games have potential to make one a participant in an active decision making process that makes sense or adheres to a moral code/social structure within a historical context, perhaps something like the multimodal space of embodied experiences that Gee describes.

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    • I definitely agree with your comment about introducing games as a new style of learning because like you said, people learn differently. Your final line really gets to the heart of the matter and while I would not want video games to replace other educational methods, I wouldn’t mind seeing them being used more regularly.

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