Learning and Games: Cut the Crap!

James Paul Gee, thank you for writing an article for gamers, by a gamer. Now, please don’t ever do it again. Gamers are not academics. Some people, my professor included, will try to tell me this is not true. But it is. Any gamer who was attending a higher-education institution dropped out with the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. It’s true, I wouldn’t make this stuff up.

I really liked your main point, James, but I had to drag it out of the quick-sand of self-made vocabulary. Games vs. games? Big ‘G’, little ‘g’? Why, James, why? Situated learning matrix? Identity? NPC’s? “Designed” and “goal-driven” problem spaces? WTF, James!

Look, I am not going to lie, my eyes perked up a bit when you talked about Tony Hawk’s skateboarding games–I like those–but honestly, you may as well have called the article: “Look ma, I told you I’d make a living off these things someday!”

For crying outloud! Not everyone is a gamer. I felt like you were acting as the Roger Ebert of video gaming here. I felt like you were giving me a list of all the things you did in highschool, instead of going to the dances and football games. I’m not knocking you, James, god knows I spent too many hours in my garage between the ages of sixteen and twenty, far away from girls, with my controller in my hands–no pun intended–but come on, keep the tech-speak at a minimum, or there’s no way I’m gonna finish your article in time to post about it for my class!

That being said, I think that this article raises one of the most important points facing educators of the modern era: What do video-games have that schools don’t?

I really like James’ point about the role of failure in learning. In school, there is nothing to be gained from failure. (Unless you consider being grounded or smacked around a gain.) In games, there is. As James points out, when a person “loses a life” in a game–fails–they learn what strategies work, and what strategies do not, increasing the likelihood of future sucesses. This is one point I wish the public education system would embrace. Perhaps they could institute a new policy: No child left behind without extra quarters.

2 comments for “Learning and Games: Cut the Crap!

  1. Ryan
    November 12, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    This is my devil’s advocate response to my post.

    Several good points were raised in James Paul Gee’s article, “Learning and Games.”
    The first would have to be the creation of an informed social identity through gaming.
    Games allow people to learn, through simulation and micro-control, the vast social structures and knowledge associated with particular social-identities.
    Games like, “Half-Life” and “Swat”, contain knowledge specific to particular environments–gun type and range, for example–that are necessary to the social intelligence of military or SWAT like circumstances. I don’t think (at least I hope) that Gee is saying that playing SWAT prepares you for a career as a peace officer, but the knowledge is situational. This is what Gee calls the “situational learning matrix”.
    So games can often fill the role of the simulation. By playing Forza (a racing sim game), I get a better idea of the situational knowledge of the racing world, thereby increasing my capacity to understand my own social identity within the context of racing.

    Another interesting point that Gee makes, is that learning and failure need not be mutually exclusive. In games, we can learn from failure through repeated attempts at passing a level. Because games allow for failure, we can “lose a life” and pick up right where we left off, this time employing a different strategy, until we have learned the proper method for success. This is far different from the classroom, where an “f” is permanent red ink on your scholastic record.

  2. Alex Janney
    November 14, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    I like how your initial post points out how the terminology James uses is a little hard to wrap your head around; I agree. The whole “Games” vs. “games” thing got me too, but you make a good point at the end in pointing out how failure in games is different than failure in school. It seems like when students fail in school, they get discouraged and give up. They don’t see failure as a source of motivation, but as a source of surrendering to any work. In video games it seems like it’s quite the opposite. Players see failures as a chance to take a shot at it again, to try and prevent that particular failure from happening a second time. Usually, players are able to learn from this and develop better game skills for it.

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