James Paul Gee on What a State of the Art Instructional Video Game Would Look Like

NOTE: I’m posting a bit late today (well, technically it’s tomorrow now), but I’m staying on track… and this is the last of 15 posts dedicated to my annotated bibliography.

For this last post, I’ve turned my attention to the recent special issue of Innovate, which focuses on “he role of video game technology in current and future educational settings.” The lead article is this one by James Paul Gee.

Though nothing from his 2003 What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy appears, there is much here that can be found in his 2005 Why Video Games Are Good For Your Soul. Gee’s diction here is more formal (for instance, Riddick is NOW a “tough guy prison escapee” rather than a “hard ass prison escapee”… if memory serves). He uses less jargon here than he does elsewhere (though he still rolls out “distributed authentic professionalism”) and he makes more formal references to others’ work.

James Paul Gee (2005) suggested that “the best commercial video games are already state of the art learning games” (p. 1). He also criticized most attempts to create serious games for learning as lacking in imagination and being aligned with “bad theories of learning” (p. 1), which “lead to boredom and failure on the part of the learner” (p.2).

This, he suggested, is because “knowledge… is first and foremost a set of activities and experiences” (p. 2). Still, he didn’t suggest that “educators should simply turn learners loose in interactive environments” (p. 2). Instead, he advocated for the importance of teachers who “already know how the complex variables of the domain interrelate with each other” (p. 3). Gee considered this the “central paradox of all deep learning” (p. 3): we can’t tell everything to learners, yet we cannot let them experience everything on their own.

Naturally, he suggested that good video games can resolve this paradox, and he spends quite a bit of the article discussing the example offered by Full Spectrum Warrior, which teaches players how to think, value, and act like a professional soldier (p. 4) both by providing a context for their learning and by providing explicit instruction when needed.

Gee’s most significant contribution may be the suggestion that “adopting a set of values and a particular world view is intimately connected to performing the activities and having the experiences that constitute any specific domain of knowledge” (p. 6). The power of video games to help learners develop values and new world view is certainly the most powerful outcome they offer.

Gee’s conclusions might best be offered as a bulleted list. A good instructional game would:

  • “pick it’s domain of authentic professionalism well
  • intelligently select the skills and knowledge to be distributed
  • build in a related value system as integral to gameplay
  • clearly relate any explicit instructions to specific contexts and situations” (p. 7, bullets added).

Gee provided a vision and broad framework for those interested in harnessing the power of video games for educational purposes, but much work needs to be done in order to test and verify his theories, and in order to realistically implement his recommendations.


Gee, J. 2005. What would a state of the art instructional video game look like?. Innovate 1 (6). http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=80 (accessed September 20, 2005)

NOTE: I imagine I will post reflections on the other articles in this issue of Innovate, but I will be spending more time now on the application portion of the Knowledge Area Module I am currently working on, so I will be looking for ways to post that material here as well… as I plan for a professional development workshop that will introduce educators to the use of games in education. :)