James Paul Gee, Video Games, and Collaborative Learning

Here is tonight’s contribution to the long slow march to a completed KAM, and eventually a review of literature for my dissertation.

Like Prensky, Gee also found a good deal of value in games as a framework for collaborative learning and socially negotiated meaning making. His concern that “children are expected to read texts with little or no knowledge about any social practices within which those texts are used” (Gee, 2003, p. 16) lead to his initial focus on the importance of connecting learners with affinity groups, or “insiders” who are “into” a certain semiotic domain and share “certain ways of thinking, acting, interacting, valuing, and believing” (p. 27). He explained that people who play particular games, or genres of games, are able to connect with an affinity group (online or gathered around a game console), even if the game is not multiplayer (p. 27). In a way, even players of a single player game are also collaborating with the game designers in co-creation of the story line (p. 81).

These ideas initially culminated in Gee’s (2003) Affinity Group Principle, which focused on the need for learners to be a part of “a group that is bonded primarily through shared endeavors, goals, and practices… not shared race, gender, nation, ethnicity, or culture” (p. 197). However, he later refined this idea and focused more on affinity spaces (Gee, 2004, p. 77). Though he continued to validate the importance of a “community of practice” (p. 77), he turned instead to focusing on the “space in which people interact” (p. 77). In addition to the original Affinity Group Principle, he added that in an affinity space, newcomers are not separated from masters, both individual and distributed knowledge are encouraged, dispersed knowledge is encouraged, tacit knowledge is encouraged (and honored), there are different routes to status, and leadership is porous (and leaders are resources) (pp. 85-87).

The Intuitive Knowledge Principle, which concerns the construction of tacit knowledge “through repeated practice and experience” (p. 111), suggested that this happens “in association with an affinity group” (p. 111) as well. In addition, three more of Gee’s principles related to Cultural Models. He advocated that learning should be set up, and is in many good video games, such that “learners come to think consciously and reflectively” (pp. 166-167) about their cultural models regarding the world, learning, and semiotic domains.

When Gee (2003) addressed multiplayer games, including MMORPGs such as Everquest, he wrote explicitly about learning as a social process that happens in the game (p. 169). He discussed the way meaning and knowledge are both “distributed across the learner, objects, tools, symbols, technologies, and the environment” (emphasis added, p. 197) and “dispersed in the sense that the learner shares it with others outside the domain/game, some of whom the learner may rarely or never see face-to-face” (emphasis added, p. 197). Very much in keeping with the constructivist tradition, Gee felt that the learner should be “an ‘insider’, ‘teacher’, and ‘producer’ (not just a ‘consumer’) able to customize the learning experience and domain/game from the beginning and throughout the experience” (p. 197).

Gee (2003) also wrote a chapter concerning “the ways in which content in video games either reinforces or challenges players’ taken-for-granted perspectives on the world” (p. 140). He predicts that
“this is an area where the future potential of video games is perhaps even more significant than their current instantiations. It is also an area where we enter a realm of great controversy, controversy that will get even more intense as video games come to realize their full potential, for good or ill, for realizing worlds and identities.” (Gee, 2003, 140)

This controversy, incidentally, is something I would very much like to take part in… as a force for the mature and unparanoid use of video games’ potential as tools of personal transformation and of positive social change.