Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

Good Video Games and Good Learning

July 14th, 2014 · No Comments

In response to the assigned reading, I decided to actually post a few interesting video clips that I came across in preparation for my presentation on this topic.  I will discuss these in conversation with the reading as well as the following questions:

  • What types of digital games are there and how do youth engage with these forms?
  • What are the possibilities of gaming for learning.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

DRAGON AGE™: INQUISITION Gameplay Series — E3 Demo Part One: The Hinterlands

This is a demo that came out a few days ago and I found that this was a very interesting piece, not only because it touches upon many of the key points addressed in the article, but because it is an organic representation of these principles because this demo was primarily put together for marketing purposes; therefore, the points that the designer addresses in this demo are the points that he feels are important to mention for the purpose of making sure that this game sells.

Here are some of the common ideas that are presented in the article and this demo:


  • “Good video games capture players through identity…players become committed to the new virtual world in which they will live, learn, and act through their commitment to their new identity. Why should the identity of being a scientist and doing science be less appealing?” (Gee, 34).


  • “Thanks to all the preceding principles, players feel a real sense of agency and control and a real sense of ownership over what they are doing. Such ownership is rare in school” (Gee, 36).


  • “Even at the simplest level, players co-design games by the actions that they take and the decisions that they make…At a higher level, many games come with versions of the software with which they are made, and players can modify them… Players help “write” the worlds in which they live — in school, they should help “write” the domain and the curriculum that they study” (Gee, 35).


  • “Players can usually, in one way or another, customize a game to fit their learning and playing styles. Games often have different difficulty levels, and many good games allow players to solve problems in different ways…Customized curricula in school should not just be about self-pacing, but about real intersections between the curriculum and the learner’s interests, desires, and styles” (Gee, 35).

These three points identify the elements in a good game that allow the player to become fully invested in it.  The ability to approach problems and tasks from different ways and using different strategies, and that the choices that you make and the way you choose to solve those problems actually impact how the game will unfold is a huge factor is what makes a game enjoyable for many people.

In the game demo, you will notice that the “customization capabilities,”  “strategies” and the impact of your decisions on the world of the game are all points that are highlighted, largely because they are qualities that are important to the target audience.

In terms of teaching, these are tools that we can use in our teaching practice to engage students with what they are learning.  If they are presented with choices and multiple ways to approach a task or demonstrate their skills and knowledge, then they will be able to choose what works best for them; this will help them develop a deeper sense of meaning and personal attachment to what they are learning.

System Thinking:

  • “Games encourage players to think about relationships, not isolated events, facts, and skills. In a game such as Rise of Nations, for instance, players need to think of how each action taken might affect their future actions and the actions of the other players playing against them as they all move their civilizations through the ages. In our complex global society, such system thinking is crucial for everyone” (Gee, 36).

 Smart Tools and Distributed Knowledge:

  • “The virtual character or characters that one manipulates in a game — and many other aspects of the game world — are, in reality, ‘smart tools’…The core knowledge needed to play the game is…distributed among a set of real people and their smart virtual characters” (Gee, 36-37).

Cross-Functional Teams:

  • When players play a massive multiplayer game such as World of WarCraft, they often play in teams (parties) in which each player has a different set of skills…Players must each master their own specialty…but they also must understand enough of each other’s specializations to integrate and coordinate with the others (cross-functional understanding)” Gee, 37).

These three points highlight the importance of actual mechanics within the game that actually allow the player to succeed and complete the game.  This involves establishing connections between individual actions/choices to the “bigger picture” and recognizing those tools within the game that are actually there to help you (like the individual skills of your party members or random encounters in your environment that might turn out to be helpful).

While it is not specifically referenced in the demo, you can see that there are different roles and functions within the members of your party.  The player can even move within the party (“putting on the skin” of each party member”) and strategically place them where they are needed.

In terms of teaching practice, these points address both cooperative learning (which, as the article mentions, is a skill that is important for when students enter the workforce) and the ability to recognize the skills and concepts they learn in class as tools to help them succeed and move onto more interesting, complex ideas.

C.A.R.: “The Tri-Force of Needs Fulfilled By Gaming.”

Game Theory: Why You Play Video Games

I found this video to be interesting because it addresses a broader “gaming spectrum” than just the “roleplaying game” (which is the focus of assigned reading).

There are three points that are addressed in this clip that are worth mentioning that are related to the needs that are fulfilled when playing video games:

  1. Competency: The feeling of mastery and the sense that you are growing, learning and progressing.  The games that emphasize competency are the ones that you can progress through quickly and rack up levels, high scores, bigger and better toys/weapons/armour, and other visual indicators that resemble success and growth; these in turn allow you the tackle bigger, more complex problems and tasks.  “The more I play, the more competent I feel.”
  2. Autonomy: The sense that you have control over your actions and the world around you; love uninhibited choices.  It’s not just about choices but meaningful choices that have (or at lease appear to have) a real impact in the game.
  3. Relatedness: The need to feel like we matter to others and that we are making a contribution to society.  People who like these games view gaming as a social experience that allows them to connect with people and friends and will likely enjoy multi-player games.

These three needs are addressed in varying degrees in different games.  Likewise, different people will be drawn to different games to suit whatever their needs are at that point in time.  I think these are important points to consider for the different students in our classrooms and how we can adapt our teaching practices to suit the needs of different students.  Sometimes students want a variety of meaningful choices.  Sometimes they will want to work with friends.  Sometimes, they will just want simple “checkup” assignments so that they can just simply see how they are growing and learning without a whole lot of muss and fuss.  Different students will have different needs at different times during their development as people (or even during the week) which is why it is important to have variety.

Video Games as Conversation Pieces on Social Justice Issues in Popular Media

Both of these hyperlinks link to interviews with staff from BioWare, the same Canadian video company behind the Dragon Age series (that I referenced at the beginning of this entry series).  Something I w0uld like to continue exploring is the use of video games (and other popular media) to critically address issues of social justice (particularly racism and sexism) in popular media.

BioWare’s Heir On Sexism, Racism, Homophobia In Games

This link is an interview with Manveer Heir, designer of Mass Effect 4 (which is part of BioWare’s Mass Effect series).  In this interview he discusses how BioWare is trying to push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable  and “sell-able” when it comes to how gender and sexuality are represented in popular media (like video games).  He discusses some interesting point, such as how some consumers and developers try to “excuse” sexism and homophobia in video games by talking about the time period or mythology of the game in question (“this is a medieval game so we will portray women in marginalized roles”).  He also raises an interesting point about the importance of pushing those boundaries and addressing those controversial issues arise, and how game developers have a responsibility in those conversations:

“You’ve got to speak up as a developer any time you see something that you don’t like. I know I always do that. I’m the first person to go, “This is problematic for me and this is why,” and you’ve got to at least bring it up and give someone the chance to fix the problem. Ultimately, we all have bosses in the world so unless you’re a one person studio so you can try to influence it up, sometimes you may change people’s minds and sometimes you won’t. I think if you have the conversation in general, people’s minds will get changed eventually – even if not in some specific instances.”

Sexism and Sexuality in Games

This is a clip of a much longer talk given by David Gaider, the lead writer of the Dragon Age series.  It raises some interesting points about the roles that game developers play in creating broader “norms” with the choices that they make when they are developing their games.  He says that every time a game gets released, the developer is making a statement about what “normal,” that is targeted to their audience (which usually ends up being as many people as possible so that they can sell more games).  He raises some interesting questions, such as:

  • Could this lead role be played by a woman?  Why or why not?
  • Could this lead role be played by a homosexual man/woman (or someone else from a “marginalized” sexual orientation or sexual identity)?  Why or why not?
  • Could this role be played by a man (in reference to a woman who is either hypersexualized or in a marginalized role)?
  • What statement about “normal” am I making to the men in my audience?  To the women in my audience?

These are interesting (and important) questions that would be worth presenting to the class when addressing any popular media in the classroom.

In Conclusion…

The assigned reading for this topic highlights some important things that teachers can learn from video game designers.  Other areas that might be worth exploring with our students is how different issues are represented in video games (as a form of popular media that is always engaging with the conversation on “what is normal”).

(Sarah Lowen)

Tags: gaming

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