When I think about games and education, one of the most interesting aspects is that you must be active when you play a game. This isn’t necessarily the case when reading, and often one’s mind can wonder even as the act of reading continues (wait… what?). Beyond the simple fact that the gamer must actively engage with the game, is the question of what the gamer plays with. As Bogost points out, “play refers to the “possibility space” created by constraints of all kinds” (120). And the constraints of this “possibility space” can effectively model incredibly complex systems. As Neys and Jansz put it, “The capacity of serious games to reveal complex situations in a relatively simple way is what distinguishes this medium from other, more traditional, media forms” (229). And by complex systems, what’s meant is a variety ranging from games that show students how city planners interact with local governments and communities to games that show the sweep of human history. What’s significant here is that the “possibility space” provides a place for the player to play with the rules, concepts, and principles of whatever system is being modeled.
If we believe Vygotsky’s idea that for learning to happen we need active learners and active learning environments, then the pedagogical potential for games shouldn’t be seen as a fad or academic affectation. Games can be a step even further beyond the knowledge banking model of teaching. Their potential resides in the necessarily active component of play. I’m not for a moment suggesting that gaming will replace print literacy, but games can represent a unique space in which to put various kinds of learning into practice. Obviously this can work well for content knowledge, but since games create systems based on rules, this can work equally well for principles and more abstract concepts.
Of course the third thing Vygotsky said was necessary to learning, in addition to an active learning environment and an active learner, was an active teacher. While games have some significant contributions to make to our curriculum, it will still be us, as the teachers, who need to find ways to integrate games into the classroom. We will be the ones who have to help our students make the connections between the various texts we choose to bring into the classrooms. So as new and different a text as a game may seem, our role in relation to this new, strange text is till the same.