There has been an ongoing debate as to whether there is anything to be learned from playing video games or is it simply a waste of time. It is necessary to point out that the content of video games is not always geared towards learning. The activities that the player engages in while playing video games are designed to teach the player skills that are essential. According to author, James Paul Gee, “You cannot play a game if you cannot learn it (emphasis mine). Gee further argues that “If a game, for whatever reason has good principles of learning built into its design – that is if it facilitates learning in good ways- then it gets played and can sell well, if it is otherwise a good game.” Games surely may sell for this reason but also do for a variety of other reasons.
The interesting thing about video games is that they have the ability to engage players with powerful forms of learning, forms of learning that could be tapped and utilized in learning and teaching environments. What are some of these powerful forms of learning? James Paul Gee again posits that one of the things that video games provide the player is “Strong Identities.” When playing video games, players have to learn to view the virtual world through the lens of a unique identity, an identity that could emanate from the game or one that the player has built by themselves. Another form of learning that video games provide is the ability to make the player think through cycles, like a scientist. When interacting in a video game environment, the player has to “hypothesize, probe the world, get a reaction, reflect on the results, and re-probe to get better results. Some games are designed to allow the players to be producers and not just consumers. Others lower the consequences of failure which encourages players to take more risks, explore, and try new things. The differing difficulty levels of video games allow the player to customize the game to fit their individual learning styles.
Video games also offer problem-solving opportunities to players. In good video games, problems are intentionally well-ordered to provide hypotheses for other more difficult problems. Good video games also offer the player opportunities for mastery of a particular routine or concept. They allow players to think in terms of relationships as well as encourage a new view of intelligence. With regard to language, video games provide verbal information in context and not in too many words, when players need and can use it.
Thinking differently of gaming yet? Learning is a process that can come in many forms. Video games are certainly one of the platforms where learning takes place. How can literacy and learning practices associated with video games be coopted to support learning in the classroom and other learning environments?