What Video Games Have to Teach Us

I came across What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee and decided to give it a read.
Straight off the bat, Gee informs us that while he has academic credentials (primarily as a reformed linguist) he has only discovered video games in the past few years. This sets the tone for the book: this is not to be a dry tome full of footnotes and theories, but rather a journal of one man’s experiences with video games.
Only it isn’t just a journal. The more interesting bits are where Gee presents us with his experiences playing games like Pikmin and Half-Life, and though he doesn’t make many sophisticated observations about gameplay he does have an interesting perspective to share.

Gee then muddles things up a bit by trying to tie in a number of “learning principles” with his observations. To pick one of his principles at random, here’s #24, the Incremental Principle:

Learning situations are ordered in the early stages so that earlier cases lead to generalizations that are fruitful for later cases. When learners face more complex cases later, the learning space (the number and type of guesses the learner can make) is constrained by the sorts of fruitful patterns or generalizations the learner has found earlier.

There are 36 principles in all, and each one is packed with highly loaded terms and concepts. On the surface it certainly looks convincing, but to really explain these principles in meaningful detail would take far more than the 205 pages Gee offers here.
Perhaps the strangest element of this book are the scattered references to phenomenology and intentionalism (all mental phenomenon must have an object). It isn’t surprising that Gee leans towards this kind of philosophy, what with a background in modern linguistics, but it is hard to figure out the place these concepts have amidst the other elements of the book.
The end result of all this — a first person account, some didactic principles, and a one hundred year old philosophy — is pretty much a muddle. Gee is keen on video games, which isn’t much of a surprise, given the financial power and media attention the industry has gotten in the past few years. But what video games should really teach us is to not be so awe-struck that we forget to examine things in detail.

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One Response to “What Video Games Have to Teach Us”
  1. John says:

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