The Classroom of Popular Culture

What video games can teach us about making students want to

by James Paul Gee

Why is it that many children can’t sit still long enough to finish their
homework and yet will spend hours playing games on the computer?
Video games are spectacularly successful at engaging young learners.
It’s not because they are easy. Good video games are long, complex,
and difficult. They have to be; if they were dumbed down, no one would
want to play. But if children couldn’t figure out how to play them—and
have fun doing so—game designers would soon go out of business.
To succeed, game designers incorporate principles of learning that are
well supported by current research. Put simply, they recruit learning as
a form of pleasure. Games like Rise of Nations, Age of Mythology, Deus
Ex, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and Tony Hawk’s Underground
teach children not only how to play but how to learn, and to keep on
Children have to learn long, complex, and difficult things in school, too.
They need to be able to learn in deep ways: to improvise, innovate, and
challenge themselves; to develop concepts, skills, and relationships that
will allow them to explore new worlds; to experience learning as a
source of enjoyment and as a way to explore and discover who they are.
Let’s look at how this kind of learning works in cutting-edge video
games. We might learn something ourselves.

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