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.

Michele D. Dickey, “Engaging By Design: How Engagement Strategies in Popular Computer and Video Games Can Inform Instructional Design”

I found Dickey’s article to be one of the most exciting we’ve read all term. I now believe that one of my unconscious hopes in entering the DMDL program is that someone in the field was thinking about (and acting on) many of the issues that Dickey raises. Dickey’s thesis is that the strategies and tactics that computer and video game designers incorporate in order to thoroughly engage players in gameplay can and should be examined for potential uses in education—and instructional design—today. The path that Dickey takes through this landscape of possibilities (vast in 2005; even more vast today) is “an overview of the trajectory of player positioning or point of view, the role of narrative, and methods of interactive design” (67). A couple of points that stuck with me more than others on this path is the notion of utilizing narrative devices such as backstory and cut scenes in designing for engaged learning. Considering where in the design field I might take myself in the future, I wonder if the following statement by Dickey is still true: “little has been written about the pragmatic application of narrative in instructional materials, and how to create compelling narratives to support multiple learning activities in complex, multifaceted environments, and to sustain interest over time” (74). This point—as well as many others throughout the article, really—also made me think of (and made me think to look more into) the Quest to Learn charter school in Manhattan.