The Game Generation

Posted by Sergio on Apr 9, 2016

This week I’ll be commenting on two pieces on the topic of gaming and education. A video by Matthew Peterson and an article by James Gee. Peterson and Gee both believe that Games exemplify the learning process and they offer reasons for the success of games in learning.

Firstly, Peterson’s penguin game is simple and effective because it alleviates the need for interpretation and the answer feels intuitive based on our senses. In this way I love what he does with word problems. If we have an idea in our heads for a problem then we need to think carefully how we define the rules and dimensions of the problem to put them into a textbook, but this removes the physical properties of the problem on our senses. In a game we can create a visual which is much more difficult to misconstrue because we can effectively transfer the vision in our heads.

Peterson emphasises the importance of games for children with language problems or disabilities because it allows them to understand the instructions clearer. Indeed it doesn’t have to stop here. Gee talks about how games allow you to customise the way and difficulty in which you learn and this flexibility in learning is one of the ways that games have become so accessible. This links to Ken Robinson’s criticism of a one size fits all education system that does not adapt to the students needs. I found the Peterson’s statistic that 70% of students are failing algebra shocking, especially the photo of the sleeping child, because even though large populations will struggle on games with vastly more difficult cognitive demands such as Dark Souls or League of Legends, they will continue to play and look to learn and improve.

I think Gee answers why this is the case very truthfully. Games allow you the opportunity to fail and they don’t reprimand you for it. With the inclusion of checkpoints and save files you can constantly test your ideas and explore new limits without fear that your mistakes will have damaging consequences. Indeed Dweck and Boaler have both suggested that if you are constantly made to feel you are not good at something you will be less willing to put in the effort to improve.

Gee suggests that games meet this balance of challenge vs. doable with more success than the education system does. But it might be more complicated than that. Peterson suggests that when students take an active role in problem solving, they want to talk about the mathematical ideas they used, a view not so different from Meyer, who stresses the importance of good questions that children will want to answer. A game will offer you enjoyment and give you a sense of reward when you have solved its problems and so a child is more likely to get engrossed in a good game. But in much of the education system, in textbooks or on blackboards, questions offer little sense of reward, little incentive and therefore very little motivation. Under these conditions you can only hope to entice students to do their work under the promise that they will one day be free of it.


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