This post has been published simultaneously on the Promethean Planet website.
James Gee is a controversial voice in the debate around the use of digital games in education. He has an interesting take on what he sees as ‘special’ about games, especially in contrast to what is special about books:
- Games are based not on content, but on problems to solve. The content of a game (what it is “about”) exists to serve problem solving.
- Games can lead to more than thinking like a designer; they can lead to designing, since players can “mod” many games, i.e., use software that comes with the game to modify it or redesign it.
- Gamers co-author the games they play by the choices they make and how they choose to solve problems, since what they do can affect the course and sometimes the outcome of the game.
- Games are most often played socially and involve collaboration and competition.
Problem-solving, design, creativity, social activity, collaboration, competition: all are intrinsically important components of effective teaching and worthwhile learning. As Gee has noted elsewhere:
Digital games are, at their heart, problem solving spaces that use continual learning and provide pathways to mastery through entertainment and pleasure.
And to those who might doubt the social aspect of computer games (probably not themselves game players), Tom Chatfield, one of the most intelligent voices in this area wrote in Prospect back in 2008 about his own playing of Grand Theft Auto (itself one of the targets of those who believe computer games are intrinsically harmful):
The game is full of pastiche violence; of slyly explicit dialogue and ceaseless minor homages to cinema, television and music. It has an 18 certificate, and I won’t be inviting any nine year olds to join me in investigating its world. But the play experience is an open-ended delight of exploration and wonder: “Liberty City,” a lovingly detailed parallel New York city, within which you can pass hours driving around in various vehicles, watching the sun rise and set, trying to attract the attentions of cops and then shake them off, and—in one especially memorable moment—driving a stolen ambulance off a roadbridge on to a raised section of trainline, then manoeuvring it underground and through the “Manhattan” railway network. All this is best done in company, and most of the pleasure I’ve taken from the game has involved sitting on a sofa with friends, dissecting the city and dissing each other’s driving skills with gleeful abandon.
These comments are by way of introducing the next Education Fast Forward debate, which will take place on Tuesday 18th April under the title: Innovation, Learning and Uncertainty.
Geoff will cover, amongst a number of issues, the priority fields for innovation over the next 5–10 years and the relationship of games and play to hard work.
Paul will offer some insights from neuroscience on why games might be a ‘special’ influence on the brain and on how we are now ready to develop, aided by the techniques and concepts of neuroscience, a new generation of highly engaging learning games that draw on our burgeoning understanding of brain function.
The debate wil involve some 25 contributors from around a dozen countries (so far, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Hungary, Kenya, Norway, Portugal, the UK and the US are all involved) and it takes place across the magical medium of Telepresence. As usual it will be streamed live across the Web. Go to the EFF website for more details and or look for further updates here on my blog as well as others.