What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy

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What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy
JAMES PAUL GEE University of Wisconsin-Madison

_______________________________ Good computer and video games like System Shock 2, Deus Ex, Pikmin, Rise of Nations, Neverwinter Nights, and Xenosaga: Episode 1 are learning machines. They get themselves learned and learnedwell, so that they get played long and hard by a great many people. This is how they and their designers survive and perpetuate themselves. If a game cannot be learned and even mastered at a certain level, it won’t get played by enough people, and the company that makes it will go broke. Good learning in games is a capitalist-driven Darwinian process of selection of the fittest. Of course, gamedesigners could have solved their learning problems by making games shorter and easier, by dumbing them down, so to speak. But most gamers don’t want short and easy games. Thus, designers face and largely solve an intriguing educational dilemma, one also faced by schools and workplaces: how to get people, often young people, to learn and master something that is long and challenging—and enjoy it, toboot. Categories and Subject Descriptors: K.3.2 [Computers and Education]: Computer and Information Science Education General Terms: Experimentation, Human Factors Additional Key Words and Phrases: Video games, education, learning, literacy ____________________________________________________________


In my book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning andLiteracy (New York: Palgrave/Macmillan,2003); http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1403961697/qid=1062706188/sr=21/ref=sr_2_1 /002-5282466-9651248, I argue that schools, workplaces, families, and academic researchers have a lot to learn about learning from good computer and video games. Such games incorporate a whole set of fundamentally sound learning principles, principles that can be used inother settings, for example in teaching science in schools. In fact, the learning principles that good games incorporate are all strongly supported by contemporary research in cognitive science—the science that studies human thinking and learning through laboratory research, studies of the brain, and research at actual learning sites like classrooms and workplaces [e.g., see Bruer 1993; Clark 1997;Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt 1997; Lave 1996; New London Group 1996; Lave and Wenger 1991]. Beyond using the learning principles that good games incorporate, I also argue that schools, workplaces, and families can use games and game technologies to enhance learning. Further, I believe that use of games and game technologies for learning content in schools and skills in workplaceswill become pervasive. Many parents, by getting their sometimes quite young children to play games while actively thinking about the game’s connections to other games, media, texts, and the world are already doing so. In field studies we are conducting at the University of Wisconsin, we have watched seven-year-olds play Age of Mythology, read about mythology inside and outside the game on websites, borrow

_________________________________ Author’s address: University of Wisconsin-Madison, 225 N. Mills St.Madison, WI 53706 WI. Email: jgee@education.wisc.edu Permission to make digital or hard copies of part or all of this work for personal or classroom is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed forprofit or direct commercial advantage and that copies show this notice on the first page or initial screen of display along with full citation. Copyright for components of this work ACM Computers in Entertainment, Vol. 1, No. 1, October 2003, BOOK01.


J.P. Gee

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