James Paul Gee, Good Video Games + Good Learning

I’ve finally gotten around to reading some James Paul Gee writing, something I’ve had on my “To Read” list for some time. As sometimes happens, I chose the work based on circumstance and proximity rather than careful evaluation of which work is regarded as best or provides the best introduction to his work. In this case, I started my new job at ITG, was between readings, and we had Good Video Games + Good Learning on the shelf.

Though I have not read the whole volume, I’m disappointed with what I’ve seen so far. While I agree with Gee’s points intuitively, I think the writing and argumentation could have used some more work. There’s a good deal of taking to task those who would restrict the availability of video games, but without much understanding of how they might have gotten to their position reasonably. By a strange turn, Gee also presents a number of his arguments without developing them fully enough to be taken any way but as prima facie arguments. It doesn’t make sense to me that I should accept his refutations of others without getting all the goods on his own positions. As one example, one of his specific criticisms of these Others (usually “conservatives”) is that they are only looking at the current state of video games rather than video games’ potential for learning. Gee commits the opposite error, in my opinion, looking substantially at the future possible instantiations of game principles rather examining carefully the motivations of gamers in the context of current games. For instance, he says, “While commercial games often stress a match between worlds and characters like soldiers or thieves, there is no reason why other games could not let players experience such a match between the world and the way a particular type of scientist, for instance, sees and acts on the world (Gee 2004).” There may be no reason why a game could not be written in this way, but policymakers operate in a context of current conditions and the likely evolution of those conditions, not all possible evolutions of them. (To say nothing of not questioning who would play such a game.)

Again, I’m with Gee intuitively and emotionally. Video games seem to contain tremendous possibility for showing us how learning can happen. However, we have to find the balance between adopting their beneficial features in learning environments as swiftly as they are moving toward ubiquity and acknowledging that their complexity may mean that the secrets to their appeal are aspects that might hamper educational accomplishment and the development of deep thinking and reflection. I’m hoping that Gee will argue his points better as the book progresses.