I previously provided a brief history, as it were, for my interest in implementing video games in the classroom along with some of the challenges educators face in attempting this task. I would now like to shift gears by going over the theories and principles that guided the teaching of my English 104 course and continue to inform my interests.
James Paul Gee has, so far, been the greatest influence on my approach and ideas for video games in the classroom. On a rhetorical level, I enjoy his writing and the accessibility of his ideas. Even if you haven’t read his work regarding video games and education, you may have heard of him in regards to sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, bilingual education, and other education-based topics.
In regards to video games, Gee talks about viewing literacy broadly in What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy. He says that words and images are “juxtaposed and integrated” and that “images, symbols, graphs, diagrams, artifacts and many other visual symbols are significant” (17). By acknowledging this broad definition, one can begin to see how video games and other visual modes fall under the category of literacy. This is the key for my ideas regarding video games as significant markers of literacy in an increasingly digital world.
The second idea of great significance from Gee is the concept of semiotic domains which include “any set of practices that recruits one or more modalities (e.g, oral or written language, images, equations, symbols, sounds, gestures, graphs, artifacts, etc.) to communicate distinctive types of meanings” (19). Essentially Gee is talking about the making of meaning. People “are literate in a domain if they can recognize and/or produce meanings in the domain” (20). We are all involved in semiotic domains. This is essential because one’s ability to participate and recognize one’s place within a semiotic domain is an important factor in regards to transferring knowledge of that domain to other domains. Everyone occupies such domains and slips in and out of various roles to fit the expectations of those domains. Individuals are able to recognize what constitutes as acceptable and unacceptable behavior within a domain—they are able to reflect, challenge, and potentially manipulate these domains (31).
This knowledge prepares us for future learning and navigation through such domains which is where video games can play a part in promoting active or engaging learning. Video games provide opportunities for examining such domains or “design spaces” (32). To reiterate, “knowledge of a given domain can be a good precursor for learning another one, because mastering the meaning-making skills in, and taking on the identity associated with, the precursor domain facilitates learning in the other domain” (39).
Another important scholar I referred to in the design of my own course was Justin Hodgson. My peer and I specifically read his article titled “Developing and Extending Gaming Pedagogy: Designing a Course as Game.” This article was beneficial in very practical terms as Hodgson taught his own writing course with gaming principles in mind and through the use of World of Warcraft (WoW).
In terms of his class, Hodgson offered a series of quest lines (made up of various assignments) which students had the option of choosing from. Each quest line was based on a specific set of related skills. For example, his course included an Image Quest Line, Presentation Quest Line, and Research Quest Line. Students also earned experience points (xp) by completing quests much like they would in an actual game. Both these ideas were integrated into the composition course I taught especially the quest line since it seemed to facilitate the individual skills and interests of students. Hodgson also encouraged competitiveness in his course by posting “high scores” for the class to see. While I did not integrate this idea into my course, one can see how Hodgson’s course specifically implemented many core gaming principles.
From these two scholars, a picture starts to form regarding how video games can be used in classrooms. Perhaps the most common move for educators is to take gaming principles that keep youth engaged and motivated and put them to use in the classroom such as competitiveness, a score or xp system, quests, and teamwork.
While I integrated some of these principles into my class, I also see a value in using video games as texts or “playgrounds” to facilitate learning. Using video games as texts presents its own uphill battle in academia. After all, educators seeking to use graphic narratives in the classroom are still struggling in some areas to have those texts recognized as significant in a literary sense. Again, that is probably a topic for a whole other post, but the issue does exist—which is partly why my peer and I decided to use Minecraft as a text in our classrooms.
Minecraft is a fairly innocent game with an ESRB E10+ rating (Everyone 10+). It also helped that Minecraft is one of the most widely used games by educators in classrooms. The game is incredibly popular among children and adults and allows for players to pick their purpose in an unscripted open world. Players can explore the pixelated world, craft, build, mine and gather supplies, and engage in combat. I particularly enjoyed using Minecraft as a text for my class because of its accessibility for casual and avid gamers alike and because it readily facilitates conversations regarding gaming culture, meaning making in games, and popular gaming topics including violence and gender representation.
In my mind, the potential for video games and gaming principles in classrooms is evident. Various approaches already exist, and some scholars are successfully tackling the application of video games in education.
I hope these first two “Press Start” posts have adequately demonstrated my interest in what I find to be a very exciting topic and have formed a foundation for future posts regarding gaming and education. Thanks for reading!
Gee, James Paul. What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning
and Literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, 2003. Print.
Hodgson, Justin. “Developing and Extending Gaming Pedagogy: Designing
a Course as Game.” Rhetoric/Composition/Play through Video Games. Eds.
Richard Colby, Matthew S. S. Johnson, & Rebekah Shultz Colby. New York:
Palgrave Macmillan US, 2013. 45-60. Print.