Level Up Your Classroom

Original NES: A thing of wonder

Original NES: A thing of wonder

Sometime in high school, I came to an important realization about myself: I’m a gamer. At that point in my life, it wasn’t something I was particularly proud of, but by the time I got to college where girls who played video games where a hot commodity, I was embracing it. I grew up with Nintendo paddle in hand, beating Super Mario Brothers, questing my way through the gold cartridge Zelda, and becoming a master of Tetris–and there was certainly no denying how my brand-loyalty continued with Nintendo64.

In “36 Ways to Learn a Video Game” from What Video Games Teach Us, James Gee speaks briefly about his first moments of playing video games and realizing the potential learning benefits of them (there’s also a great video with him talking about it too). There’s this perfect moment in this article when Gee realizes that consumers seek more challenging video games. It is absolutely true that they do. This is exactly the reason why I have always played the various Zelda games that are filled with time-consuming tasks and puzzles. Completing the game was fun and rewarding.

Gee comments about a game’s learning mechanisms, or their ability to teach the player how to play, and how these functions are important to a game’s success. Again, he is right. If Zelda games weren’t scaffolded in such a way to get the player from the forest to the field, then no one would ever be able to complete the longer tasks–and save the princess, of course. However, there seems to be an element that Gee only begins to approach in this reading: the collaborative nature of learning in video games.

I recently began playing an online, multi-player strategic game called Kingdoms of Camelot. The game is all about building up your kingdoms and your troops in order to conquer the world and battle other players. Your success in this game is dependent on building up your kingdom, and, more importantly, the community around you.

 Kingdoms of Camelot (K.O.C.) is similar to what the game described by Ian Bogost in “The Rhetoric of Video Games”. The more soldiers you train, the more resources you need, and so on. It is also similar in the way that the community has developed social norms and ways of interacting through a specific function called ‘global chat’ where players talk about game strategies and plans. As a new user, you must learn the different ideas and concepts of the game through the coded speech of the more advanced users. Containing an unprecedented amount of symbols and codes, the game tests a player’s ability to dive into conversation, use context clues, and use their perceived definitions to further their advancement in the game. Eventually, you get to a point of knowledge where you can join a specific group called an Alliance and build a community within the community.

Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North

In this way, Gee’s ideas about a multiplicity of literacies in “Semiotic Domains: Is Playing Video Games a ‘Waste of Time’?” becomes evident in games, as well as ideas around Game Based Learning. But what Gee does not get to is the way groups of players develop these meanings together. In the groups of K.O.C., new players work together to interpret the strategies and codes of the more advanced players. Much in the way that we ask students to collaborate in the writing classroom, certain games allow for groups to convene regarding a certain topic or obstacle and develop a solution together. Indeed, users even use wikis to collaborate on knowledge regarding the game.

We’ve worked on ways to bring wikis into the classroom, and some groups have even spoken about ways to bring video games in as well (others outside our classroom have too). So, let’s say we had students choose a game in groups; together, they play the game and develop their characters, worlds, etc. Afterward, we ask them to consider the implications of their game play and ideas of literacy, community, identity, code-switching, or other valuable composition-related ideas. Is there some way to get them to consider these complicated ideas in the same collaborative way that certain games allow for collaborative meaning making? Would asking the students to create a wiki about the game knowledge and their experience get at this, or could there be something more? After all, a lot of our students are playing video games anyway, right?

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3 comments on “Level Up Your Classroom

  1. Really enjoyed your post. I can remember way back when playing all the video games you listed as a kid. As a matter of fact, I remember when I was about 12 or so and I couldn’t beat Zelda for Super Nintendo. I spend days stuck on the same stupid level, so I eventually just quit. As crazy as it sounds, I still regret quitting. Now, so many years later, I consider trying it out again, figuring now my process of critical thinking is more advanced than when I was 12, and I should be able to win this time around. Interesting though how I still feel that way about video games and I don’t even consider myself a gamer anymore. It’s been years since I’ve played a video game, but I know video games are a huge part of peoples lives. I think it’s only a matter of time before classes are dedicated to playing video games. Colleges have literature classes, creative writing classes, so why not a class utilizing various video games? Todays games are so much more advanced than they were years ago. Critical thinking is a must if you want to beat the game. Plus, I feel they help increase a persons ability to multi-task and become more literate. I did a small presentation last year on the topic of video games, and in the article written by Gee, we examined two students who set up online forums to collaborate with others about their role playing games, they created their own abbreviations in regards to the game to interact faster, they basically went above and beyond to succeed in the game. Video games can be extremely time consuming, but they’re not just these mind numbing games that take no energy or effort to beat. If anything, reading generally takes less effort than a playing a video game, but we’ll never tell a lit professor that!

  2. Jennifer I think your gamer tendencies and background have certainly assisted you with collaborative thinking and work. I am intrigued by the Kingdoms of Camelot online game that you discuss – it seems like something that could be incorporated into the classroom even. Perhaps as a tool to having students engage in group work, I suspect they would initially find it fun, and they could attempt to blog, or write a reflective papers on the components or mechanisms present in the larger structure of the game. I also like the notion of having the students collaborate on a wiki in order to develop what they feel are the rules, knowledge, and expertise necessary to participate and build their kingdoms. You provide a lot of “food for thought.”

  3. I never would have picked you for a gamer… Zelda, though, talk about a trip down memory lane.

    I’ve often tried to integrate games into my classes, but I often end with the problem of “gee (no pun intended), that would take really long to make, and what would actually be the payoff?” strangely, I think the payoff would be HUGE, but I simply don’t have time to make it happen enough! I have to force myself to remember that all games don’t require such intense creation- dice and BINGO can be an interesting way to stir things up, too. I like it.

    By the way, Master of Tetris would be a great name for a band.

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