Since our course began a month ago, graduate students in ILT5320: Games and Learning have read and openly annotated game-based learning literature from leading scholars in the fields of digital media and learning, games studies and play, and situated learning (see our Readings for additional detail). These researchers and learning scientists have shared important insights with us; the following synthesizes a few key ideas:
- Game-based learning is both situated – in social and cultural practices – and also ecological – that is, games and play spans settings and contexts.
- Games and game play may be understood as socially accomplished, as influenced by cultural and expert practices (including those of formal academic disciplines, as well as pop culture), and as reliant upon contingent (and sometimes improvisational) configurations of tools, routines, and interactions.
- The cultural expressions of games – including fan communities and affinity spaces, more generally – exhibit distinct patterns of participation, and these patterns contribute to individual and collective identity development and knowledge generation. Game play is one means of fostering a more participatory culture through networked media, people, and ways of being.
- And any discussion of games and game play surfaces related conversations – and concerns – about equity. Who has access to networks and knowledge – and who doesn’t? How are people differentially supported in participating – or prohibited from participating? What skills and identities are developed – and honored – through play?
As we move through our course’s third two-week cycle we turn from the descriptive toward the dynamics of design. We have read authors who describe learning theories, the characteristics of affinity spaces, and media literacy skills. Now, we begin to read authors who are also concerned with design – from the design of games, to the design of meaningful learning experiences and environments through game creation and play, to the design of playful everyday experiences.
Some of our readings this cycle are expressly critical, with authors demonstrating a healthy skepticism about the ways in which games are designed, as well as the purpose for playing (and learning) in the first place. Consider the idea of gamification. Too frequently are points, leaderboards, levels, and boss challenges superficially slapped onto some experience. Moreover, should routine aspects of our everyday be “played” as if we’re all immersed in some big life-as-game? Posts by Bogost (@ibogost), and the highly recommended reading from Heller (@nathanheller), offer useful criticism. Alternatively, the article from Nicholson (@snicholson) and video lecture by Werbach (@kwerb) suggest ways that gamification can be more meaningful in the contexts of education and business. Moving away from the contested practice of gamification, learning scientists like Peppler (@DrPeppler) and Kafai (@katyaskit), as well as Games, identify diverse learning environments and practices that support youth creation of games as a means of learning specific skills and principles. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we have much to learn about the design of game-based learning from those who research learning.
As always – here’s our usual reminder reading links, websites, and PDFs can be found on the course Readings page.