Williamson and Facer on the implications for schools of children’s computer game communities

Yes, the title is awkward, but it is taken from their article.

Williamson and Facer (2005) began their introduction by citing a “growing interest in the potential application of [computer and video game] environments to formal educational objectives” (p. 255). Their literature review provided an overview of “policy, industry, and educational research perspectives” (p. 256), which are focused “on exploiting the potential of games’ interfaces in schools” (p. 256). This section included references to Prensky’s work, MIT’s Games-To-Teach project, and the Education Arcade consortium among others.

However, they were more interested in “how children’s existing habits when playing computer games are situated within social contexts and practices, and how these practices, rather than the games software on which they are centered, might provide insights of relevance to more formal educational settings” (p. 256). Here they began to cite a variety of other authors, including James Paul Gee, whose ideas appeared regularly throughout the rest of the paper, including discussions of ‘affinity groups’ and ‘distributed knowledge’ (p. 266).

Based on data collected from two different studies, the authors then discussed the importance of playing games in peer groups (p. 259), expert gamers (p. 260), wider social resources for learning about games (p. 262), and social contexts for learning in online games (p. 263). These discussions included the issues of gender and socio-economic status (p. 261).

In the following discussion of “the potential applications of games practices to the formal educational setting” (p. 264), the authors suggested that “the social practices to which games-play provides young people with access are equally, if not more, motivating” (p. 264) than the games themselves. The following quote illustrates their overall point powerfully:

In leveraging self-motivated peer-to-peer support networks and producing resource materials such as dedicated magazines and online discussion environments, the wider games industry and player culture provide a model and resource for the kinds of learning that are often absent in traditional school settings. An elaboration of this point will clarify the critical differences between the social nature of playing games and traditional schooling, in which isolated, individual activity remains prevalent.

Their closing discussion also included online role-playing as an example of “authentic practice within social context” (emphasis in the original, p. 267).

My epiphany for the day: When I talk about things such as video games in education, distance learning, or high school redesign… even learning with computers in general… I am often asked how students will be socialized if the traditional school and classroom structures are broken down. Perhaps the answer lies not in games (though multiplayer games with guild-like organizations can certainly contribute), but within what Gee (2004) called affinity spaces surrounding the games. Williamson and Facer (2005) suggest that

as with learning to play games, children need to be introduced to systemic ways of thinking about problems, and require the support of networks of expertise and peers, resources, tools and technologies which they can trust to work in ways they expect, along with access to a variety of media in which they are able to communicate problems they are encountering – and receive solutions to those challenges.

Perhaps part of the answer to the question lies in the intersection of games and the read/write web… in the online manifestation of the players’ affinity spaces.

Perhaps there is even a dissertation in there somewhere. Not that I am looking to change my topic, but I have spent at least as much time and effort researching the read/write web in education while working on this doctorate as I have exploring games in education.

Thanks for reading.


Williamson, B., and Facer, K, (2004). More than ‘just a game’: the implications for schools of children’s computer games communities. Education, Communication, & Information. 4 (2/3) 255-270.