“What is better, to be born good or to overcome your evil nature through great effort”

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Scene from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim one of my favorite open-world fantasy role playing video games.

I have always played video games to some extent. I would not exactly call myself a “hard core” gamer, but have never doubted that the connections or associations I developed playing video games provided a foundational experience that was are crucial to learning, thinking, and problem solving. Thus, I completely agree with Gee’s argument from What Video Games have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy that “when young people are interacting with video games-and other popular cultural practices-they are learning, and learning in deep ways.” In other words, what people “are doing when they are playing good video games is often good learning.”

Gamers use both their imagination and moral judgement to make choices and see what outcomes may occur. The feel of accomplishment a gamer experiences when they get the gold coin or to the next level enforces correct behaviors and development for growth of both the character and the player. “Good games offer players a set of challenging problems and then let them practice these until they have routinized their mastery. This cycle of consolidation and challenge is the basis of the development of expertise in any domain.”

I feel that people who do not play video games do not get a chance to experience this new platform of learning and perhaps do get the same type of practice at certain skills, whether basic hand-eye coordination, critical thinking and problem solving, or basic patience and perseverance. All these principles can be taught through video games and applied to the world in which we live.

Here Gee’s Probing Principle struck a particular cord with me. That is Learning is a cycle of probing the world (doing something); reflecting in and on this action and, on this basis, forming a hypothesis; reprobing the world to test this hypothesis; and then accepting or rethinking the hypothesis.

In a different way, I likely would not be as interested in computers if were not for my early interest in PC gaming. For example, learning how to load, install, and manipulate MS-DOS games of the early 1990s gave me a solid foundation for the basic computer language, and certainly gave me early skills at trouble-shooting computers that continues through to my current job. Or as Gee says, “The child, through action and reflection, becomes a “self-teacher,” “training” his or her own mental networks of associations (the patterns the mind stores).”

Video Games are Work

“Because people will not put in effort if they are not even willing to try in a domain; success without effort is not rewarding; and effort with little success is equally unrewarding.” — The learner needs to be sucked in to the non-reality of the situation, even more so than one might in a movie or book. People spend hours working to become better gamers or practicing (or probing in Gee’s terms) to beat a game.

Take the example of Eve Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), “where thousands of people from all around the globe are waging a huge conflict that will have real repercussions on the politics, economy and social structures of a virtual universe,” says Ned Corker for the games developers, CCP games.

The space role-playing game has a fully functioning in-game economy, with leads to a uniquely organic virtual universe unlike any other game on the market. Several years ago a team of players spent an entire year infiltrating and in-game corporation and ended looting the equivalent of $16,500 of game items. Even more recently, a gigantic space battle broke out, largely due to the lapse of an unpaid in-game bill, and resulted players losing an estimated $300,000 (yes, that’s real world money).

Here players have fully embraced Gee’s Identity Principle. Learning involves taking on and playing with identities in such a way that the learner has real choices (in developing the virtual identity) and ample opportunity to meditate on the relationship between new identities and old ones.

“The worst thing a kid can say about homework is that it is too hard. The worst thing a kid can say about a game is it’s too easy.” –Henry Jenkins

In a different fashion, Players are projecting an identity onto their virtual character based both on their own values and on what the game has taught them about what such a character should or might be and become.”

Yet, any sane person can tell the difference between video game violence and real-world violence. As Gee states, “None of the current research even remotely suggests video games lead to real-life violence in any predicable way.” Moreover, the large prevalence of violence in video games today, has in no perceptible way directly led to an increase in violence overall. In some ways, this is why I think it dubious to label a game like Civilization offensive. Perhaps on an academic level we can criticize the ahistorical nature of the game, but as Mir and Owens suggest, “if there is something regrettable about the game in its current state, it is that it is not offensive enough.”

In fact, perhaps this is the most fundamental aspect a child can learn from video games, to be able to disassociate yourself from the character in the game and the real world outside. Though is you are in for some real meta-gaming like experience of life take a look at the game commentary “Is reality real?”, the Life as an NPC subreddit, or Outside, a free-to-play MMORPG developed by Deity Games and the most popular game, with 7 billion+ active players.

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2 thoughts on ““What is better, to be born good or to overcome your evil nature through great effort”

  1. I enjoyed reading your post and seeing the perspective of a gamer historian. I am not a gamer myself and struggled in relating with some of the points that Gee makes in his book. However, now I think I see how games can effectively cultivate the critical thinking skills of an individual. The game as you say, helps the gamer to “probe the world” by testing hypotheses and reflecting on it. Perhaps I have just never had the patience to do this sort of thing, but do you think there was a particular reason you were drawn to games? Also, for people who don’t really play games, where do you think their educational/competitive fulfillment comes from in this digital age?

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  2. Congrats! I really enjoyed reading your post. As someone who also does not have a lot of experience gaming I find myself in the same shoes as Catherine above. I completely agree that video games are invaluable educational platforms and should be seen as such. I particularly enjoyed Gee’s argument against video games and violence when he mentioned that we have to look at the dynamics of the context involving the individual gamer. I find it silly that people hold video games solely responsible for inciting violence or encouraging violent behavior as they are understood as simulated from the beginning. It presents video games within a vacuum in which nothing else but the game influences the gamer.

    I do find myself interested particularly in context and consciousness of games however. For example, when we play historically based games, is the gamer consciously aware of the historical discrepancies you think? Do you think it is more important that they understand the critical thinking and problem solving skills?

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