What Video Games Have to Teach Us: A Non-Fiction Book Review

What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy and Learning by James Paul GeeWhat Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2007) by James Paul Gee might be one of the most valuable and timely titles I have read in recent years. Coming to video games late in life, initially to “help” his son with gaming, Gee began to see connections to his professional life as an educator in the virtual worlds created by video games.

Specifically, Gee identified 36 learning principles often found in the best (most challenging, most fun, best designed, most popular) video games that are often lacking in contemporary schools that favor the skill-and-drill approach to deeper, more immersive learning. In discrete chapters, Gee identifies individual games (Tomb Raider, Half-Life, World of Warcraft, Sonic the Hedgehog to name a few) and the principles found in those games that could be applied to school learning.

The ideas Gee outlines in What Video Games Have to Teach Us will not be shocking or revolutionary to anyone who already plays video games. Gamers know that it takes more to play a video game than hand-eye coordination. As Gee underscores throughout this book, gaming is a multifaceted process that requires planning, reflection, strategizing, and even community interaction. In other words, it’s impossible to play a video game without learning how to do so.

The key difference in learning a video game is that the learning is more strategic and immersive. Gamers learn by doing and through experimentation. They also learn in strategically effective ways. Instead of having adjust to the difficulty level of a game, the game–through its very design–often adjusts to the competency of the gamer. Schools have not found an effective way to do that yet. The main argument of this book is that video games create active, critical learners while schools often create passive learners.

There is a lot to like about this book. Gee keeps the book grounded in actual anecdotes and experiences and carefully avoids the hypothetical by using his own life as a gamer to explain the principles found within the book. The game play is described as carefully as the learning principles to create a book that gamers and non-gamers will be able to embrace–and understand.

Finally, this book isn’t just about playing video games in isolation or even about schools. Rather Gee also looks at the community aspect of video games through their use of shared knowledge and, especially, through the creation of game related affinity groups (communities of sorts formed organically around shared interests). This multi-faceted approach to the subject creates a well-informed and thorough examination of video games, players, and how the ideas found in good video game play and design can be adapted to traditional learning environments to create a more engaging and enriching learning environment for every student.
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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy