Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

Gaming and Education

July 14th, 2013 · No Comments

The Gee article “Good Video Games and Good Learning” presents the value of video games in education in a unique way.  Gee explains that the value of video games lies not in the games themselves, in their potential for educational application, or in their explicit educational content.  Instead, the value of video games to education is how we as teachers can apply game-like qualities to enrich the classroom.  In bringing about “gaming practices” into the classroom, Gee suggests a number of focus areas that video game practice and classroom practice share:


In starting a new video games, a gamer will assume a ‘new’ identity within the game, whether it is already a pre-established character, such as Snake from Metal Gear Solid (Gee, p. 34) or build their character (i.e. name, attributes, abilities) from scratch, as in games like Mass Effect and World of Warcraft (Gee, p.34). If we were to adapt this to the classroom, as teachers, we should be encouraging students to explore their identities as a learner, a person, and a student. In doing so, it allows students to become more comfortable with who they are in the classroom.


As a gamer plays the game, they will interact with the world (i.e. characters, environments, etc.) and in turn the world will provide them with feedback. As such, the gamer becomes fully engaged with the game’s world as the game progresses and allows the gamer feel as if they are a part of the actually game world itself. Hence, Gee argues that by encouraging students to engage with their textbooks in the same way (i.e. providing ‘real world’ contexts to the material in the textbook), it allows a back and forth interaction with the written text and the material they are engaging with.


In larger world games (i.e. Role Playing Games or Massive Multiplayer Online), gamers are actually producing and adding to the game’s world, creating new content in the form of characters, narrative, and physical spaces (i.e. buildings, structures, etc.). And, in some cases, gamers can even modify or ‘mod’ a game to such an extent that they create a new games (i.e. Valve’s Half Life was modified into a new game called Counter-Strike, both of which are hugely successful).  If we, in turn, encourage our students to contribute to the content that we are teaching to them (i.e. allowing students to provide feedback on course content), then it allows students to feel like they are more a part of the class.

Risk Taking:

This particular value, which Gee argues is seen more so in games than in the classroom (Gee, p. 35), is a really important one to focus upon. While gamers are willing to take more risks in the games that they play, because there are either no repercussions and the gamer is rewarded for such an act, in the classroom, the student is instead punished for taking risks. Hence, I think it is important that as teachers we encourage our students to take risks with their learning so that they may explore more than just one path of education.

Customization and Agency:

Tying into the value of production, Gee states that gamers can often customize their characters within games, particularly in role playing games, developing every minute aspect (i.e. hair/eye colour, personality, voice, etc.). In this regard, I think it is important that we allow students the opportunity to customize their curricula to an extent, as I mentioned in ‘production’.  This is not to say that they develop the entire course themselves, but that when creating the curricula of a course, we allow the process to be two-way, with interaction between student and teacher. By doing so, we are allowing students to feel a sense of agency over their education and learning, something that Gee argues is very uncommon within the classroom. (Gee, p. 36)

Well-ordered Problems; Challenge and Consolation; and “Just-in-time” and “On Demand:

In any game, the player will engage countless problems and challenges along the way, whether it is a puzzle or a moral dilemma (i.e. Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Season One). However, regardless of these challenges, gamers are able to solve these challenges/problems because the game instinctively prepares gamers to face them as the game progresses. (Gee, p. 36) It does so by providing the gamer with “just-in-time” instruction, requiring gamers to act in a hands-on way. Or, it will sometimes provide games with “on demand” cues, or ‘hints’, to allow gamers to learn as they go along. By doing so, gamers on continually developing newer skills without necessarily realizing it.  In regards to the classroom, Gee argues that we should provide a constant challenge to our students, but also provide them with the skills and materials that they need throughout. (Gee, p. 36) In doing so, we are, as educators, utilizing the “zone of proximal development”, and encouraging our students to slowly step outside of their ‘zone of comfort’ and to develop new skills to face newer challenges without burdening and/or scaring them with these challenges.

The article explains that people learn best when they can relate and apply new information in an experiential context.  Scaffolding of information is highly effective in this way, as it is provided only in relevant contexts.  Students then, are not over-loaded by too much frontloading, and instead are able to apply relevant information as they are given it; thus strengthening their connection to the material.

Performance before Competence:

The final argument that Gee makes is that in video games, the gamer is given the ability to perform an action before they are competent (i.e. being able to jump before being told how to), hence encouraging gamers to experiment with their character and its abilities before properly knowing how to. (Gee, p.37) Yet, in education, we require our students to be fully competent before we allow them the opportunity to perform an action within their field (i.e. students must go through the scientific method before conducting an experiment). Though we cannot necessarily allow students the opportunity to perform an action in their field of study before being fully competent, we can at least show them real world examples of such.

In our own understanding, video games in essence are a form of interactive escapist fiction. Many have storylines options that allow the character to participate in episodes or chapters that must be completed before the story can progress. This allows students who have difficulty with the written word a way of interacting with fiction in a way that is tactile and understandable. Video games work when they, like novels, are able to pull the reader/user into the story when they have a certain amount of believability.

Many video game developers are coming out with games that are very similar to choose your own adventure books that were once featured in my elementary school library. Each user/player is able to “write” their own version of the story and have their own experience with the material. Video games can also be a great tool in the classroom by looking at different aspects of video games.

Our group is curious about how the elements presented in Gee’s article can and/or have been applied into modern classrooms.  Furthermore, we are curious about the following questions:

  1. What kind of effects do video games have on our students?
  2. What kind of effects do video games have on the 21st Century classroom?
  3. In your teaching experience, have you been able to bring gaming technology or principles into your classrooms?
  4. Would it be beneficial for students to have as much input into their own learning, as they do in the context of a video game?  Are there any repercussions?



Link to Prezi Presentation:


–Christa, Chris & Cat


Works Cited:

de Castell, S., Jenson, J., & Taylor, N.  (2007).  Digital Games for education: When Meanings Play.  Situated Play, DiGRA Conference, Tokyo, Japan.  590-599.

Gee, J.  (2005).  “Good Video Games And Good Learning.”  Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85.2, 33-37.


Tags: gaming

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