We promised a sequel to an earlier post on what makes good video games. In that earlier post we discussed that video games work best if the players identify strongly with the content, if the game gives the players production choices, if the game involves some risk, and if the game can be customized by the players. Here are four other important principles cited by James Paul Gee:
Interaction: While books have many advantages of portability, low cost, multiple copies, they cannot respond to your questions or correct your guesses or change difficulty levels as you read. Computer games can, and sometimes do so with more precision that an alert teacher, because the computer can store large databases about what a guess likely means about the player’s understanding of the concepts.
Agency: A child’s sense of agency becomes the net result of the many responsive and customizing features of a good computer game. At a general level of “do I exist” and “can I make things happen” the computer game works. While we decry the content of shoot-em’-up games, we value the empowerment children feel when they play games with responsible social content. For the shy child, this sense of agency can be particularly valuable.
Well-Ordered Problems: Good games have a focused set of concepts that define its problem space, such as using clues to find missing objects. The game has a series of levels that move from simple to complex. So the child learns more than how to solve Level 1 problems, she also learns what makes a new problem a more complex variation of the first problem, and in so learning that relation can figure out how to adjust her problem solving strategy – a form of learning to learn. Giving the child a large number of games that are not well-ordered does not put this issue of “what make this problem hard” and “how can I adjust my strategy” to rest.
Challenge and Consolidation: Good games will give the player unhurried time to solve the problem that challenges them initially. The child eventually solves this problem type without difficulty by using a well-used strategy. But then a good game will present a special variation that takes into account the strategy the child has used but will not work with the new variation. The game deliberately causes the player to reconsider the limits of the initial strategy and understand the problem class to which it is limited, thus defines expertise.
Gee, James Paul. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2003.
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