What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy – Context Book Report   4 comments

I have to admit that I chose What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee partly because, as an avid gamer, I am always looking for ways to justify my hobby. Gaming tends to have a bad reputation. Most scholarly works on the topic of gaming tend to be focused on the negative aspects, such as addiction or the connection between violent games and violent behaviors. I had initially come across this title while doing research on the gaming community as an information community, but at the time that I discovered this title, I had ultimately passed over reading it for my research. I was pleased to find this title in the list of books to choose from, and given this second opportunity, I was more than happy to take up the book at last.

Compared to books and movies, video games are not a type of media that can be passively consumed. Video games involve interacting with the virtual environment and learning from said interactions in order to progress. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee explores how video games are an evolution to learning. With traditional schooling, learning is passive and solitary. The student sits in a classroom and memorizes information from the teacher and a textbook. In this setting, the student is not encouraged to work with their peers to find answers to a problem. On the other hand, the learning employed in video games is a type of learning not unlike the scientific method. In this kind of setting, instead of memorization, the learner is encouraged to think similarly to a scientist by forming and testing hypotheses, reviewing the results, and retesting for better results.

Good video games are a delicate balance of being challenging and being designed in such a way that players are able to learn how to play their game, with challenges gradually increasing in difficulty and complexity. Design the game to be too easy, and the players will lose interest quickly. On the other hand, design the game to be too difficult, and the players will become too frustrated.

Video games also encourage participatory culture, which can be reflected by the various websites, magazines, and chatrooms dedicated to specific game titles created by players for other players. This participatory nature of video games is taken even further with mods, where players create extensions to the game or create completely new games by using the video game’s software.

What can we glean from Gee and apply to libraries?

One of the first connections I made was how traditional learning is passive and solitary, relying on facts. Does that not sound similar to what the average person thinks of the library: a quiet building full of books? If libraries are to avoid extinction, perhaps we should emulate some aspects of video game design. Rather than keeping the focus on solitary absorption of information and facts from books, we should shift the library’s focus to becoming a place where users can explore information and use the library to create. This shift in focus is aligned with the concept of library 2.0 in that libraries should be moving towards a focus on people, rather than content.

Gee, J. P. (2003). What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Posted September 18, 2017 by Thu-Thao Tran in Uncategorized

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4 responses to What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy – Context Book Report

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  1. First of all- is your header the Monterey Bay Aquarium? That’s one of my favorite places. I almost chose this book instead of “The Information Diet,” so I’m glad you did and I can read about it. I’m a retired gamer (just not enough time these days) but I love that people are looking at games to uncover how people learn and connect with each other. One thing I would note is that people learn differently at different ages. Whereas younger people tend to be less collaborative when learning, older folks are typically more pro-social and favor group learning environments. That’s a little counter-intuitive since we associate gaming with younger people (twenties to thirties, at least.)

    • Yep! That’s the Monterey Bay Aquarium! Also my most favorite place on earth! Collaborative learning was a topic Gee touched upon in the book, as that was something that happens in MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, where each player learns separate roles and implement what they’ve learned together as a group to tackle an objective (raid boss). Not only that, Gee also discussed how younger people (children/adolescents) and adults (Baby Boomers, in his case) approach the learning style present in video games. It was definitely a good read!

  2. So you’re saying the library should be open-world, and patrons should design mods to improve aspects of the game? 😀 This is definitely an interesting book, though. I’ve never viewed video games through a learning lens, but it’s true – when you can’t get past a certain part of a game (thinking about Dark Souls here…) you attack it in different ways, experiment, try new things, and then apply those skills in other parts of the world. You could read a walkthrough, but that takes some of the fun out of it.

    In the vein, I agree with your idea of making learning less solitary. Find interesting books and craft programs around them that encourage discovery, experimentation, and collaboration.

  3. Excellent overview of the gaming community. I learned a lot about the potential of the games

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