What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

I feel like I have walked through the wrong door when I read this book. I am a gamer who can talk at length about the benefits of video games. When I read this book, I am inundated with complex phraseologies for what I already knew about video games. In short, this book is not for gamers. It is for linguists and specialists in education to understand video games. But let us look in more detail at this book.

James Paul Gee’s thesis is that video games can teach more than just basic hand-eye coordination. Gee believes that games can teach and that we can learn a lot from how they teach. Gee has 36 points of what games teach. 36 points that I will not explicitly state because there is providing basic information and then there is padding, and listing and explaining all 36 points is what the book is for, not the book’s summary. I think I agree with all 36 of the book’s points. I know I read the book, but I’m not sure I fully absorbed it. I’m not sure what a semiotic domain is or if video games ever taught me about them.

Despite all of this, I still feel the need to recommend this book to some people. I think the reason I am not getting the full message out of this book is that I am arriving from the perspective of someone who not only knows that games can teach and teach us about learning, but I already have my own examples. What this book teaches me is how to phrase what I already know in a different way and talk to a different group of people about the same subject. There are other people who approach this topic. I think particularly of Extra Credits, a video series about video games and video game design on TheEscapistMagazine.com (links to specific episodes will be included at the bottom), but there are other people on the internet who talk about this subject. But there has been one massive flaw in how they have talked about them in my previous experience. All of the people I know of who talk about video games and there value to society have been coming from the perspective of people who grew up playing games. They are not the 60 year-old linguists, but mid-20s adults who played video games for most of their lives. I think this book’s biggest value is just that it brings a different perspective to a dialogue that is already going on.


As far as the video series I was discussing concern, there were two episodes that come to mind. One is on gamification and incorporating game design into other aspects of life  http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/extra-credits/2985-Gamification. The other video I think is important to this discussion is on tangential learning http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/extra-credits/2957-Tangential-Learning. They also make reference to an older episode about The Skinner Box and psychology that you can find here, but I do not necessarily think that this episode is as relevant or is entirely necessary to understand what they are talking about http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/extra-credits/2487-The-Skinner-Box. I cannot guarantee that all of the content on this site is 100% safe for work, so visit at your own risk, but the videos themselves are SFW. Hopefully, these videos will help to illustrate my point about understanding the point of this book without understanding the language in it.

6 Replies to “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy”

  1. I should start by saying that I'm not a member of the gaming community and don't plan on becoming one any time soon. So in reading Gee, I had to take his thesis with a grain of salt. The list of 36 points for why video games can and should be an integral part of learning and socialization seem a bit ridiculous. I don't buy the idea that skills developed in RPGs and simulations will translate to real-life social literacy and learning skills. The reviews that I read on this text seemed to have hit the mark in saying that his educational theory on the value of "situated cognition", being immersive, experiential based learning, is more or less on point. But I don't agree with the proposition that video games are ultimately going to be a ultimately positive source for this type of learning, especially when a game becomes more of an addiction than a concerted enriching experience.

    1. Gee circumlocutes the glaring issue of video games that are contingent upon having an avatar identity is often a form of escapism and social isolation than a viable social/educational experience. I don't deny that historically, or even fantasy, based video games that simulate events, eras, etc. can be a learning tools to some degree. Hey, at least Street Fighter II represented a variety of cultures (though incredibly sensationalized). But, I don't think that it should be assumed that if a game which prioritizes competition and success over an educational experience is a worthy, or even plausible, teaching tool. Although games like Jamestown Adventure and 1066 are somewhat more rudimentary and less engaging, at least there is legitimate information to be gleaned. Learning that you can defeat that little troll 5 feet ahead more easily than the armored warlock 10 feet ahead is probably not going to get you an A in your Anthro class.

  2. As a gamer, I fully agree with Gee that games are a learning experience. In many cases, however, they students aren't really learning what teachers may want them to learn. Just like a standardized test, video games are procedural. You might be thinking students are learning about Jamestown, when what they're really learning is how to play, how to "game the game" if you will. Take Argument Wars, for instance. Are you really learning how to argue before the SCOTUS, or are you learning which arguments sound right for the game, or how to most efficiently use the mechanic? Is that really what we should be teaching kids?

  3. I found this very interesting. I really like how Gee combines video games and school in his writing. I think that schools do teach in a very strict way that does not always encourage students who cannot memorize but who do grasp concepts. I would like to know what teachers think of this book and Gee's ideas.

  4. Gee makes a compelling case for the importance of video games to helping children learn. He isn't targeting game players, but strives to change the opinions of parents and educators: the authority figures who control children's access to video games. I agree with Gee that "good" video games (that is, those that feature good learning principles) stimulate kids to become better problem solvers and think about new ways to engage the outside world. At the heart of Gee's argument is the notion that video games engage kids' attention in ways that schools do not. Instead of adamantly opposing video games, educators should learn from video games' virtues.

    That said, I agree with Meris's concern that Gee ignored the primary peril of video game playing: addiction. This is a legitimate concern with many role-playing games and I know one person whose wife threatened to leave him unless he stopped playing EverQuest sixteen hours a day. Video games can go beyond helping players learn life skills to becoming their reality.

    Still, this is an important book.

  5. One of my darker secrets was that during my sophomore year of college, during the time in which my back was under repair, I took up playing World of Warcraft to pass (more like completely consume) my time. I started out, simply enough, playing with my friends as a level one rogue with no key-mapping but quickly progressed to a pvping, raiding, staying up all nighting, dps calculating WOW enthusiast. My profession in the game was leatherworking which, if you ask anyone who actually plays the game, is a worthless profession. To make money, I did daily quests – ones that could be completed only once on a daily basis – and grinded, grinded, grinded until I got my epic mount. In the year that I played, I logged over a month of time playing. Disgusting, really.

    What I found most striking through Gee's analysis was a discovery of my own motivations. A competitive person, I wanted to be the best with the least amount of work (classic gamerism). Gee would cite this as my desire to engage in the Self-Knowledge Principle, stating that, “the virtual worls is constructed in such a way that learners learn not only about the domain but also about themselves and their current and potential capacities” (Gee 64). Without mention to World of warcraft, I did learn that the broad majority of people that play video games are not blessed with tremendous intellects, to put it nicely. If I learned nothing other than the allure of MMORPG's and their addictive capabilities, it was that I am a lot smarter than the majority of the people who feel their opinions should be voiced on the internet.

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