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This chapter reviews research on how video games have been used in schools and other learning environments and how they impact learning outcomes. This chapter reviews four functions of video games in learning. Games as content teach specific disciplinary knowledge, for example in history, math, second language learning, physics, and medicine. Games as bait leverage the engaging aspects of video games to attract students to the game even when it is not obviously about learning. Games as assessment use the “leveling up” feature of games, where players advance to the next level as their skills increase, as a way to assess the player’s developing knowledge. Games as architectures for engagement are studied by examining how and why people play games and how they can be designed to best foster learning by fostering involvement, immersion, and investment – often using narrative structures. There is evidence that when games are designed on learning sciences principles, they contribute to deeper learning.
The following interview between Kurt Squire and Greg LoPiccolo of
Harmonix Games (on June 22, 2010) tries to get at how Harmonix thinks
about designing games to elicit particularly musical experiences.
Harmonix, developers of FreQuency, Amplitude, Karaoke
Revolution, Guitar Hero I and II, and now
the Rock Band series, is known for its pioneering work
in rhythm action games, taking them from a niche genre to broad
mainstream success. Sarah Chu, who transcribed and cleaned up the
transcripts, contributed interview questions as well.
Kurt Squire: Can you talk a little bit about the game design
philosophy at Harmonix and a little about how you think about game
Greg LoPiccolo: Well, the company charter from day one was to
use technology to provide nonmusicians with the tremendous experience of
creating music. Most of the people here are musicians or frustrated
musicians or some version of that. There’s a strong consensus here
that if you have proi ciency in an instrument, performing music is one of
the great joys in life. It is enormously fun and rewarding, but this
experience is denied to most people because the learning curve is so steep.
It really requires multiple years of focus, dedication, and time to get good
enough on a traditional instrument to really express yourself. So, broadly
conceived, the ambition here has always been to try to use technology to
bring more people into that experience. Harmonix was not originally
games-specii c. It wasn’t until maybe about four or five years ago that we
realized that games are an appropriate platform to bring this vision to
This section, “Games as Designed Experience,” is the result of years of conversation among game developers, educators, media theorists, and indeed most of the authors (at times all three) at venues such as the Games+Learning+Society (GLS) Conference. This section features game developers theorizing about their practice and the social changes suggested by it. Much of this work is motivated by game developers trying to understand their practice in real time. As designers, these authors are mostly outside mainstream educational research discourse. However, they all do educational activities, including teaching university courses on game design, leading workshops for game developers, or just training team members informally on the job.
Many of the essays that make up these chapters have appeared in other venues ranging from Game Developer magazine to academic journals on digital media and learning. As such, their primary audiences include professional game designers, educators, and media theorists. Rather than revamp the pieces for this audience, we chose to leave them relatively intact, hopefully providing a window into the language and value systems that each author brings to his or her work.
This volume is the first reader on video games and learning of its kind. Covering game design, game culture and games as twenty-first-century pedagogy, it demonstrates the depth and breadth of scholarship on games and learning to date. The chapters represent some of the most influential thinkers, designers and writers in the emerging field of games and learning - including James Paul Gee, Soren Johnson, Eric Klopfer, Colleen Macklin, Thomas Malaby, Bonnie Nardi, David Sirlin and others. Together, their work functions both as an excellent introduction to the field of games and learning and as a powerful argument for the use of games in formal and informal learning environments in a digital age.
As educators investigate the power of games for learning, much attention has been paid to the learning principles underlying video games (Gee, 2003/2007), their design features (also called formal abstract design tools; Church, 2005), such as the use of narrative for creating investment (Davidson, 2009), or rhythmic immersion (see Squire, 2011). An understanding of these design tools and patterns is critically important to enable understanding of learning at the human-computer level. Indeed, much of educators’ interest in games lies in understanding their design so as to better understand cognition as a materially situated, digitally mediated phenomenon (see Shaffer & Clinton, 2006; Lemke, 2005), as well as how to design more compelling, effective learning materials ranging from multiuser virtual environments (MUVEs) to digital textbooks (Squire et al., 2003).
Consistent with the sociocultural approach, it is equally important for researchers and theorists to understand the socially situated nature of game play. Social structures such as families, guilds, informal gaming networks, and broader cultural notions of play further mediate game play and thus learning. For example, familial rules (such as the length of time that a child is permitted to play) make some forms of gaming practice available while prohibiting others; if a child is permitted limited gaming time, it is unlikely that he or she will have opportunities to engage in sophisticated practices such as modding. Within multiplayer games, guilds function as a remediating force, pushing particular values for how games ought to be played as instantiated through formal and informal participation structures (such as dragon kill point [DKP] systems, looting rules, and rules for membership). Such structures may be on par with the software itself when constituting the game-play experience in such contexts (Squire & Steinkuehler, 2005).