Learning to Fly

I’ve never really given this much thought, but video games do foster learning. In this video, James Paul Gee talks about one of my favorite games ever (Portal!). I can rave about this great puzzler/problem-solving game all day, but I’ll contain my excitement for now. While I’m on the topic here were some other fantastic games from my school days: Battle Chess, Midnight Rescue. The Battle Chess gameplay (anytime you took pieces there was a brief animation/fight sequence showing the capture) was so brilliant to 7-year-old me, that I got hooked onto playing chess. Although, I had always wanted to learn more about the game (strategies, opening/ending games etc.), those kind of resources were just not available to me back then. Midnight Rescue was another brilliant game that was able to integrate learning fabulously into a PC game.

The key message James Paul Gee tries to convey in his brief lecture is that games today are only half the picture; when people get passionate about a game, they read up more about it and dig deeper. For the case of Portal, there are numerous active gaming forums and wiki pages that discuss the game, suggest and implement modifications and research the physics behind the gaming. While these are great learning resources for a gaming enthusiast, how many of us have read the gaming manual/forums or wiki pages before playing the game? I would probably guess none. All that wall of text makes much more sense once we’ve immersed ourselves into the make belief world of the gaming environment. We have thousands of textbooks in school, what we need are video games for those textbooks.

9 thoughts to “Learning to Fly”

  1. I also think games can help the initial part of engagement, so the curiosity for “reading the book” comes afterwards. But what if you know that by reading the book you will be able to not only play but design the game. Will that work as a motivator for digging in on the other half of the picture?

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. But do you not think that if we focus on video games for learning we will be giving a wrong message – a message that “learning is a bitter medicine that needs to be coated with sugar” when we start designing video games for books? [https://llk.media.mit.edu/papers/archive/edutainment.pdf]

    1. I too am afraid of this. It is fun to think about the times we have learned through video games. (When I was a kid, I played a game called “Gizmos and Gadgets” which taught me about simple machines and energy and following blueprints and it was awesome!) However, if I was in a college class and the textbook was a video game, I have a hard time imagining that it wouldn’t be incredibly frustrating. We need to come up with good ways to stimulate learning rather than the “bitter medicine” approach. I think that video games can supplement learning, especially when it isn’t their goal to transmit information but encourage problem solving, such as Portal.

    2. Thanks for that paper, Aakash — this reminds me of a debate from the early days of (silent) cinema: was this a medium for entertainment (bad) or enlightenment (good).

  3. I like the idea of translating textbooks to video games. However, I don’t think we could truly eliminate the textbook in its entirety and replace it with video games. I definitely agree making the learning environment more fun and applied is a great idea! And there are many ways to go about doing this not just utilizing video games (scavenger hunts, field trips, museums, building applications). I think we need textbooks for the basics but, then I think we need a way to make the textbook come to life to apply the reading.

  4. Midnight Rescue! I loved that game! The game music was running through my head while reading your blog. I played Battle Chess, too, but unlike you, the gimmick of the battles did not get me interested in Chess and I lost interest quickly. But on a serious note, I question the idea that much of the content we need to teach can be made into an interesting game. Battle Differential Equations? Probably not!

  5. I remembered those days when I used to play Halo for xbox almost 24/7. At the point where I started skipping classes during my undergrad just to play with my friends. After I got caught up into the game, I wanted to get better that everybody else therefore I started reading books about how to improve the way I play and of course the tricks to cheat a little bit. All this motivation lead me to learn more about the game, however it didn’t help me being mindful every moment due to the fact that while I was playing I got lost in that digital world. It is a great idea to have “video games for those books” but until what point the learner will understand that not everything is a game.

  6. I think this is great! I would love the opportunity to experience this! It would be so cool to live in a generation that experiences this as a norm!

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