Annotation of “The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning” (Gee 2008)

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.

In his work, Gee (2008) discusses the relationship between good game design and good learning. He begins by explaining past and present analogies of the human brain. He reports that past thinking likened the human mind to a calculator while current thought suggests human thinking is more akin to a simulation where new situations are dealt with using past experiences. The process is however more complex when we consider how information (similar to memory) is stored: experiences must be “truly useful for learning.” Information in the human mind is stored in terms of goals (categorized by did and did not work out), the individual must be able to interpret the value of the information/memory for future problem-solving, feedback to assess successes and failures, and they have to be able to communicate their experiences to others (social interaction) (p.21-22).  These elements, Gee argues, can be applied as the foundation of a well-designed game. His primary argument however is that mastery of a game is pleasurable to the player, though research shows this is the case when learners are not in a school environment, but if we apply this idea of mastery as it relates to pleasure to learning, a student who is able to master concepts through virtual learning may find this experience more pleasurable. 

Gee use the example of SWAT4 as an example of good game design. This popular shoot-em up style game exemplifies the principle of a goal-driven problem space. The movement through the space helps the player to interpret experiences and apply tools for problem-solving’ players/learners see specific in-game solutions as art of a more general approach to problem-solving.

Gee is not suggesting that in order to meet a goal in education a student must apply the appropriate amount of artillery. Instead, he suggests that through this by becoming accustomed to a goal-oriented environment, players can learn to assess the problem they are faced with and interpret their surroundings as a means for solving the problem: what tools do I have that I can use to reach this goal? 

This selection also repeats the mantra of other proponents of virtual gaming for learning, which is that video games have a positive impact on motivation, and while Gee uses an interesting example to explore the impact of gaming on problem solving and how it can function in a learning scenario, most of what he presents seems to rehash ideas that have been presented elsewhere; however, a significant distinction Gee addresses has to do with action versus consumption: “players in a video games make things happen; they don’t just consume what the ‘author’ has placed before them” (p.35). It is this concept of engagement through action that is most useful for learning as it can be applied to different modes of learning past gaming. 

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