James Paul Gee on Learning with Video Games

>>James: Digital media,
video games in particular, work just like we know books work. You know, it’s all the
stuff that you know about literacy is true
of digital media.>>One thing that a lotta people who
are not into games are not aware of is that today, in the way
that people game socially is, the game is not the only
thing at stake, right? And if you’re gonna contemplate
the possible use of games or digital media for learning about
learning, you really have to say, “Wait a minute, don’t
just look at the game. There’s more going on.” Now, so I’m gonna show
you what it is.>>All right, this is World of
Warcraft, 15 million people. This is the most played
multiplayer game now in the world. It’s a role playing game that
has some interesting properties. Role playing means you have to
play this with other people. You don’t have to, but you do
play this with other people. The basic unit is five people. Now in each of the five people, each
one has to have a deep skill set, which they’ve chosen to
specialize in those skills, and it has to be different
than the other four. So you cannot bring in to the
so called dungeons, that is, where you’re going to go play
and do challenges and fight– you can’t bring in five people
with the same skill set. The problems are designed
that they’re hard, and they can only be solved if you
integrate five different skill sets. See, so I was a priest, a healer. You bring in five priests
to a dungeon and you die in two seconds, right? So the idea, first of all, is
each person must be deeply skilled in one skill set, but has to
understand the big picture, so they can integrate their skill set with the very different skill
sets of the other people. Now why is this interesting? Because in the world
of high tech work, this is called a cross
functional team. If you go look at the new
capitalism and high tech workplaces, they’re almost all organized
in cross functional teams, which means every member of the
team has to be an absolute expert, but able to understand everybody
else’s role so they can integrate with it, and even replace
them if they’re gone. Now in work, this is
considered extremely high stress. Then you go home to play World
of Warcraft to do it again.>>Portal is a game where
you use a portal gun to make an orange or blue portal. And if you go in one,
you come out the other, and they obey a whole bunch
of the laws of physics, for this world, its
own physical laws.>>So this is a game that
is essentially playing with a certain physics,
and it’s very interesting, problem solving, and
it’s a lot of fun.>>And people could say, “Well, surely
this is good for tacit understanding, kind of an embodied understanding,” but it doesn’t mean you
can say any physics, right? And you know, as educators,
say, “Well, you can’t articulate your
physics, so what good is it?” What those people are missing is that games today are only half
the picture, because what happens in any game that people
get passionate about is they play the game and
then they get interested in going on an internet site, which I
will call an affinity space, I’ll tell you why, and discussing
that game, modifying the game, researching it, and explicating
everything about it, right?>>And so, you get stuff,
the first portal, like this. This is a group of people who play
Portal who decided to make a Wiki to explicate all the physics in it. There are links, like in momentum,
to actual physical definitions and physics textbooks
and physics articles.>>So now you see, whoa, far
from there being no articulation and language of the knowledge
being developed in the game, there’s a whole community
devoted to doing just that.>>These games give rise to these
people that get on the internet and begin to use quite
technical, specialist language, like you just saw, right?>>That is not vernacular
English, right? You wouldn’t talk that
way at the dinner table. It’s what people call
academic language, or what I will call
specialist language. Now this is the only piece of true
gobbledygook I have in this talk and it’s sad, but this is
the way psychologists write. It’s why they don’t have friends. But yet the point is
just really crucial. This is from a body of research
that’s now about twenty years old that shows that when human
beings understand anything, whether it’s a text or the
world, they understand it not by abstract generalities, but
by literally being able to run in their head a simulation
of images and actions and experiences that
the words refer to. And it turns out, and every
teacher here is gonna say, “I could have told you that,” when
a human being is doing that is when they are thinking, because they
have to get ready to take an action that they want to take,
and they want that action to succeed, they think really well. But when you ask them
to think about stuff, but there’s no action
they’re gonna take, and they don’t really care what the
outcome is, they think very poorly.>>You see, in American law, there’s
a very interesting legal principle that is completely wrong,
called opportunity to learn. Courts have ruled, two kids had
the same opportunity to learn if they got the same book. But in fact, I’m saying that if
one kid has ten thousand hours of experience with the stuff the
book’s about, like ten thousand hours of playing Portal– that’s
what the language is about– that kid has a much better
opportunity to learn than the kid that has fourteen minutes
or seconds, right? That opportunity to
learn is not the book. It’s whether you can bring
experience to the book.>>When I first started to play
video games, I was brand new, I was in my fifties and I was
shocked at how hard they were. And like any good baby boomer, I
said, “Okay, I can handle this. I’ll read the manual
first,” and I sat down to read this little
twenty page book. And the twenty page
book had one hundred and ninety-nine bolded headings, each
cross referenced to the other hundred and ninety-eight that were
technical definitions. But I did what every kid would do, I went and played the
game for hours, terribly. And then the weirdest
thing happened to me. I picked this book up right there
and I could no longer recover why that wasn’t crystal clear. I couldn’t even recover it anymore,
because I have seen in the game, an image, an action, an experience, a
goal, a dialog, that fit those words. See, these words are about a
world, and if you haven’t lived in that world, and you can’t see it
in your mind, these are just words. You can look them up in a dictionary,
which is completely useless.>>And it struck me at that day that
the key problem of our schools, more now with No Child Left Behind, is it’s full of manuals
without the games. We have handed kids all the
manuals without the games. And imagine, now if you did that
to gamers, there’d be a revolution.>>There isn’t any such thing
as technical, hard language. There’s only language you don’t know
because you didn’t live in its world, you didn’t play its game. Therefore, in theory, we could level
the playing field for the first time in American education if we
brought the games to the manuals, and I don’t mean a video game. If we brought the activities,
the problem solving, the living in the worlds
of chemistry and algebra, with making kids want
to do things with them. That is, to see them as tools, to surmise new possibilities,
that’s the game. And if we brought those to school,
they’d like it as well as Portal.

15 thoughts on “James Paul Gee on Learning with Video Games”

  1. This is exactly where we want to go with our product, the Rare Earth Chemical Element Card Game, which we want to turn into the Rare Earth Chemical Element Video Game. Great explanation of how innovating education through video games will democratize access to learning.

  2. I actually enjoyed watching this more than the video over which it played. I agree completely that relating academic concepts to familiar experiences is the best way to learn and wish you the best in your attempts to sway public education!

  3. Amazing. I've been telling family and friends this for the last year, not knowing there were so many others who'd reached the same conclusion. I badly want to work in this field, developing 21st century educational tools that make people want to learn. I think one of the natural fields for this is history. We already have games that create detailed worlds, about which their players are deeply knowledgable. What if we had the same games but just as historically accurate as our books?

  4. If videogames give us everything already imagined, except the 1000 alternative ends for the game lovely&algorithmically decided for us to arrive or to choose… Why should we ever use again our 12 senses, imagination, inspiration and intuition? hum, ehh… Oh, yes: to ask puters to develope videogames to teach our children what replicant puters will still keep from the last human programmers, those that reached the last imaginations recalling their human soul strenghts. Moby Dick no more, alas!

  5. As a student of Educational technology at masters level I came to apriciate the use of games in Learning. This is good.

  6. Did you know that your video is now a part of an educational MOOC on using computers in the classroom? Really great video – keep it up!

  7. This video made me feel that videogames are really incredible tools which are able to revolutionize the old fashioned education system.

  8. Truly remarkable! If only media outlets would report on things like this, and not just the controversy of violence in video games.

  9. It's not the games it's the way they're constructed and what they do to learners. We do not construct learning like this, but we should.

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