Gee, “Learning about Learning from a Video Game: Rise of Nations”

In this chapter, Gee aims to “further develop the argument that computer and video games have a great deal to teach us about how to facilitate learning, even in domains outside games” (p. 45). “[If] only to sell well,” Gee continues, “good games have to  incorporate good learning principles in virtue of which they get themselves well learned. Game designers build on each other’s successes and, in a sort of Darwinian process, good games come to reflect better and better learning principles” (p. 45). Gee uses the real-time strategy (RTS) game Rise of Nations (RoN) as his illustrative example, noting that “[i]n a good game like RoN there is never a real distinction between learning and playing” (p. 61).

Gee’s analysis of “sandbox tutorials,” where the player “is protected from quick defeat and is free to explore, try things, take risks, and make new discoveries,” even though, for example, the player may look to be in great danger (p. 56), had me wondering what narrative-scripting challenges this might create for trying to advance a game’s story.

On the whole I found Gee’s analysis extremely smart and compelling, though the self-hating gamer in me couldn’t help but wonder if he is reaching a bit at times. I’ll be interested to see if he—or anyone else—has developed this argument further as games have grown more advanced (and in some instances, more subtle or hidden in their complexity) over the past half-dozen years. I will say, though, that his statement, “For humans, real learning is always associated with pleasure, is ultimately a form of play—a principle almost always dismissed by schools (p. 61) is a somewhat different (and very compelling and inspiring) take on the fun vs. educational question I’ve had to consider throughout my classes so far.

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