Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

Reading Response “Good Video Games and Good Learning”

July 13th, 2014 · 2 Comments

In his article, Good Video Games and Good Learning, James Paul Gee identifies sixteen learning principles that good video games incorporate and argues that teachers should try integrating aspects of gaming into their classrooms in order to maximize students’ success. As someone who grew up playing Nintendo, Sega, and Play Station, I recognize that video games are very fun and agree with Gee that school should be fun too. Too often students today are forced to sit passively in their hard plastic seats for long periods of time and listen to a teacher talk for what seems like forever. By incorporating aspects of gaming into the classroom environment, students are able to have fun, proceed through the curriculum at their own pace, take part in the creation of storyline or setting of a game, and make mistakes in an academic space where failure has traditionally been highly stigmatized.

After reading Gee’s article, one of the potential benefits that immediately occurred to me was the possibility of reducing the amount of classroom behavior management needed. For generations, schools, and especially the classroom, have been environments where mistakes are considered the worst things that a student can make. The traditional classroom environment does not provide students with the opportunities to learn from the mistakes they made on their tests or assignments. The stigmatization of failure in the classroom has generated a feeling of animosity between students and their learning environment. By viewing mistakes as failures rather than learning opportunities, schools are adding a lot of unnecessary stress to their student body and preventing them from making educated guesses or taking chances. In such an environment, students could also begin to believe that their ideas are not valuable and are unworthy of sharing with the rest of the class just because they are different or potentially wrong.

Unlike the traditional classroom, I think that modern classrooms should present a happy, motivational, engaging, and purposeful setting for learning. In order to reduce the amount of classroom behavioral management needed, teachers must understand the conditions that affect the instructional process if they want to prevent inappropriate behavior. By incorporating the learning principles highlighted in Gee’s article, teachers are providing their students with the opportunity to move through the class material at a speed that is more comfortable and less stressful for them. Students will be less likely to act inappropriately in class if the learning environment is suited to their interests and learning styles. Teachers can provide help to students and guide them through their learning process when they ask for it, but most of the learning is done by the student at their own pace. It is the hope that during this process students will start to take ownership of their learning and begin to view their mistakes as learning opportunities rather than failures.

Another interesting learning principle that successful video games incorporate is what Gee describes as the element of production. As the article mentions, “players are producers, not just consumers; they are “writers” not just “readers”” (Gee, 35). In other words, many good video games get their players to take part in the writing, producing, and co-designing processes with every action and decision that they make in a game. In their short article, How Can Video Games Support Literacy Skills for Youth?,Kathy Sanford and Liz Merkel bring up the excellent point that video gamers also take part in many literary activities in order to improve their favorite games and gaming skills (Sanford and Merkel, 118-121). Gamers are always producing written reviews about games online, in magazines, and even on the iTunes app store. The popularity of these video games and gaming apps can often be determined by these written reviews and critiques by players. In order to write these reviews, gamers have to develop a complex language about the game by playing it. Therefore, teachers should try to tap into this knowledge of video games by encouraging their students to write about them during writing activities. Students should also be provided with a similar opportunity in the classroom to take part in the formulation of the curriculum and their own learning. As teachers, we need to recognize how video games are transforming previous forms of literacy. It is up to us as teachers to become informed about the learning principles that good video games incorporate and the activities of literacy that our students are already engaging with outside of the classroom.


-Cody Macvey



1) As English teachers, how can we use video games to improve the literacy skills of our students?

2) What are the potential drawbacks of structuring the classroom and curriculum like a video game?


Gee, J. (2005). Good Video Games and Good Learning. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85(2), 33-37.

Sandford, Kathy, & Merkel, Liz. How Can Video Games Support Literacy Skills for Youth?. In Kendrick James, Teresea M. Dobson, Carl Legoo (Ed.1), English in Middle and Secondary Classrooms: Creative and Critical Advice from Canada’s Teacher Educators (118-121). Toronto: Pearson. (2012).

Tags: gaming · Presentation · Seminar Prompts

2 responses so far ↓

  • aeyrbecca // Jul 14th 2014 at 8:12 pm

    I think you make a really good point with regards to classroom management. A lot of what we attribute to boredom or disengagement could be a fear of failure or unworthiness that could be annihilated with a gaming outlook and a de-stigmatization of failure! Awesome.

    I think that another important point that Gee makes is about the ability that video games have to make the people who play them invest a lot of time into their learning and playing experience. Describing the experience when he first plays a video game he bought for himself, Gee says, “As I confronted the game, I was amazed. It was hard, long, and complex. I failed many times and had to engage in a virtual research project via the Internet to learn some of the things I needed to know. All of my Baby-Boomer ways of learning and thinking did not work, and I felt myself using learning muscles that had not had this much of a workout since my graduate school days in theoretical linguistics” (34). He goes on to argue that investing energy into something “long, hard, and complex” is the goal of educators everywhere, and all of the principles he defines are great ways to help learning move in this direction. I think that one of the most important of the principles that contributes to extended investment, interest, and concentration is the way that video games set up learning right in the zone of proximal development (see principle #11, pleasantly frustrating). This motivates players to want to learn and put effort into that learning.

    Finally, I think one of the most important aspects of video game learning is the level of patience and problem solving skills it requires. My partner is a long-time video game player, and I am not. I would argue that he has a much larger capacity for solving problems within video games themselves and in our every day life than I do, and he is also much more patient with the process. I cannot prove that the two are definitely related, but I think it his highly likely. He has spent extensive time playing and learning a variety of video games, and I have not. Isn’t this what we are moving toward in our English classrooms? We argued in class recently that critical thinking and problem solving skills, not content, are what are starting to drive the modern day English classroom. The ability to interact and engage with a variety of topics using a variety of different skills has become more important than knowledge of specific texts and concepts.

    I really think that Gee’s principles are a worthwhile avenue to consider for our future classrooms. I would love to see some more concrete, practical examples of how to incorporate these principles into an English classroom. Anyone have any suggestions?

    – Rebecca Thomas

  • nazzie // Jul 15th 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Plain and simple, I don’t see Gee’s point. He professes that gaming can allow for all sorts of learning to take place in the classroom, but I’m not convinced. I’m especially skeptical of his claim that gaming can help with writing skills since game creator need to “write” their stories. I confess I’m not a gamer, but from all the video games I’ve seen, not once have I been witness to a game that posited a particularly profound story, gave us complex, multi-layered characters, or considered and investigated the depth of human nature, like say, ‘Crime and Punishment’ or ‘King Lear’ or even a graphic novel like ‘Mouse’ would do. It is silly to draw parallels between the literary features of video games and works of literature. Even an Archie comic has more character development. From what I’ve seen the aim of most video games is to gather points or in the case of other games like “Sims” to mimic some kind of real-life fantasy. Yet, not even the Sims game has depth, we never enter the internal world of the characters, we don’t know how they feel, we’re unaware of their thinking process, and our minds are not gathering information and contemplating the various paths characters could take. Instead, with gaming, the gamer seems to just be responding to stimuli that is action based: move this way, that way, jump this high, or flip over, and do it fast so your character can go to the next world. How can Gee claim that any of this is equivalent to literary work? This to me is ridiculous. Gee claims that using gaming in the classroom can put students at ease and make them feel comfortable about failure since one can’t really “fail” at a video game. But I wonder whether this is the wrong attitude. Isn’t failure important? Don’t we always, as adults, fail in life and from there learn? I can’t imagine going through childhood and adolescence never having failed and always feeling “comfortable.” How is that to prepare me for the myriad complications I will later encounter in life? I for one have not been convinced and unless someone can come along to incorporate a heavy literary element into the video game world, I’ll continue to stick to my novels, short stories, films, and poems.

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