James Paul. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and
Literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
What Video Games Have To Teach Us delivers an insightful and positive pronouncement of what teachers (and everyone, really) ought to
understand about gaming; Gee advocates, with resoundingly smart support, a
thoughtful take on video gaming as an activity far more complex and meaningful
than most off-handed–"waste of time"–skeptics would ever consider. Games
and gaming activity reverberate with thirty-six education principles; Gee
anchors each chapter with a handful of principles to tie video gaming in with
careful theoretical insights related to New Literacy Studies, situated cognition
and connectionism (8). He blends anecdotes from first-hand experience and
interview/observation data gathered by ethnographic methods to introduce the
many conceptual hooks linking video games and literacy learning.
Specifically, Gee articulates the ways in which games function as a precursor
domain for more advanced activities (c.2), as a playground for mingling virtual,
real and projective identities (c.3), as a demonstration of situated learning
and distributed cognition (c.4), as a platform for explicit and tacit learning
modes (c.5), as an amalgamation of cultural models (c.6), and as a forum for
social connection and interaction (c.7).
Many of Gee’s scenarios about education and the applicability of video gaming
principles focus on the sciences (physics and biology). His prose involves
very little citation; in other words, the book isn’t referentially dense.
Instead, he includes, densely written and in small print, bibliographic notes at
the end of each chapter. What Video Games Have To Teach Us is highly
structured; its outline is distinguishable at any point and there are several
mini-taxonomies, clusters of terms introduced to give dimension to a concept.
For instance, regarding expertise, Gee suggests three premises: value everyday (lifeworld)
knowledge, the young are better at some things than the old, and "protect
lifeworld domains from the assaults of specialists" (39).
Gee also introduces a learning cycle evident in gaming that ought to be
celebrated in formal educational settings: prope, hypothesize, reprobe, rethink
(90). Despite its processual regularity, the sequence, according to Gee is
generalizable across video gaming and science education.
"Games, of course, reflect the culture we live in–a culture we can
change" (11). ^Cultural change, however, happens incrementally, and Gee
might have been more explicit in this project about the degree to which playing
games or designing games manifests as a culture-changing force.
"By semiotic domain I mean any set of practices that recruits one or
more modalities (e.g., oral or written language, images, equations, symbols,
sounds, gestures, graphs, artifacts, etc.)" (18).
"Three things, then, are involved in active learning:
experiencing the world in new ways, forming new affiliations,
and preparation for future learning" (23).
"Meaning, then, is both situation and domain specific" (25).
"Because I want us to think about the fact that any semiotic domain, whether
it is first-person shooter games or theoretical linguistics, that domain,
internally and externally, was and is designed by someone" (32). ^No
mention of agency or rhetoric in this discussion of design. In places, design
feels static or a bit deterministic in the context of gaming.
"But for critical learning, the learner must be able consciously to attend
to, reflect on, critique, and manipulate those design grammars at a metalevel"
"However, all deep learning–that is, active , critical learning–is
inextricably caught up with identify in a variety of different ways" (59).
"The argument is that just as language builds abstractions on the basis of
concrete images from embodied experience of a material world, so, too, does
human learning and thinking" (76).
"The appreciative system is where affect and cognition merge and come
"In playing video games, hard is not bad and easy is not good" (165).
"So learning here is social, distributed, and part and parcel of a network
composed of people, tools, technologies, and companies all interconnected
"I am claiming that elites can use anything–canonical literature, the Bible,
biology, or any other sort of text–to attempt to dupe people by trying to force
them to read it in the elite’s way" (204).
Terms: New Literacy Studies (8), situated cognition (8), connectionism (8),
multimodal (14), semiotic domains (17), problem of content (20), affinity group
(27), design grammars (30), lifeworld domain (36), design space (40), precursor
domain (47), practice effect (67), masterful performance (70), mind as network
(92), appreciative systems (96), transfer (124), regime of competence (133),
cultural models (143)
- Related sources:
- Aronson, E. The Jigsaw Classroom. Beverly Hills: Sage, 1978.
- Barton, D. Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language.
Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.
- Churchland, Paul. A Neurocomputational Perspective. Cambridge, Mass.:
Bradford/MIT Press, 1989.
- Wertsch, James. Mind As Action. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.