Inviting Video Games to the Educational Table

Gee, J. Learning and Games. The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 21–40

According to Gee (2008), “good video games recruit good learning” but it all rests on good design (p.21). This is because well-designed video games provide experiences to the learner which meet conditions that “recruit learning as a form of pleasure and mastery” (p. 21).  These conditions include in which providing an experience that is goal structured and requiring interpretation towards making those goals, that provides immediate feedback and the opportunity to apply prior knowledge/experiences of self and others towards success in meeting goals. If done in such a way, Gee (2008) argues that they allow the learner’s experiences to be “organized in memory in such a way that they can draw on those experiences as from a data bank”(p. 22). As Gee presented (2008), these conditions, coupled with the social identity building that good game design incorporates,  help “learners understand and make sense of their experience in certain ways. It helps them understand the nature and purpose of the goals, interpretations, practices, explanations, debriefing, and feedback that are integral to learning” (p. 23). These conditions are the key to good game design as they provide several key aspects which play into learning science.  First they create a “situated learning matrix”- the set of goals and norms which require the player to “master a certain set of skills, facts, principles, and procedures” and utilize the tools and technologies available within the game to do this – including other player and non-player characters who represent a community of practice in which the learner is self-situating (Gee, 2009,p. 25).  This combination of game (in game design) and Game (social setting), as Gee (2009) explained, provides the learner with a foundation for good learning since “learning is situated in experience but goal driven, identity-focused experience” (p. 26). In addition, many well-designed games  incorporate models and modeling, which “simplify complex phenomena in order to make those phenomena easier to deal with” (Gee, 2009,p. 37). Many good games also enhance learning through the emphasis on distributed intelligence, collaboration, and cross-functional teams which create “a sense of production and ownership,” situate meanings/terms within motivating experiences at the time they are needed and provide an emotional attachment for the player (which aids in memory retention) while keep frustration levels down to prevent them pulling away (Gee, 2009, p. 37). As Gee (2009) pointed out “the language of learning is one important way in which to talk about video games, and video games are one important way in which to talk about learning. Learning theory and game design may, in the future, enhance each other” (p. 37).
In breaking down the connections to learning which can be present within well-designed video games, Gee (2009) has not only outlined the structures through which good educational games should be built but is constructively addressing common arguments presented against using video games. Recognizing the assets well-designed games can bring to the educational table is important since, more often than not, the skills and content learned in games are learner-centered and content connected but are “usually not recognized as such unless they fall into a real-world domain” (Gee, 2009, p. 27). This is likely why the discussion of the role of video games within education is necessary. As Gee (2009) commented,

“any learning experience has some content, that is, some facts, principles, information, and skills that need to be mastered. So the question immediately arises as to how this content ought to be taught?Should it be the main focus of the learning and taught quite directly? Or should the content be subordinated to something else and taught via that “something else”? Schools usually opt for the former
approach, games for the latter. Modern learning theory suggests the game approach is the better one” (p. 24)