Gaming as Learning

Gaming in educational settings is an element of youth popular culture that is currently trending and being integrated more regularly into various aspects of teaching and learning. With the popularity of gaming amongst our 21st century learners continuing to rise, there is an attempt to consider how this form of ‘text’ could be used to ‘teach curriculum content and skills in a more motivating way.’ (Pelletier, 2009, p.85) Gone are the days when the teacher is the expert in all fields, transferring knowledge directly to the students; we are now within an educational age where the students’ expectations about their learning must be met with an innovative, engaging, dynamic, participatory, digital curriculum and pedagogy. ‘Gaming as learning’ is a complete paradigm shift and one in which I personally have not previously explored within my own teaching.

After delving into the topic of ‘Gaming as learning’ more deeply, there are an extensive range of reasons to support this shift in education. According to Clare Bradford from the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University, ‘Games are worth taking seriously because they activate new forms of textual pleasure and new forms of sociality; and because, like other kinds of texts, their possibilities are never exhausted or their meanings ever absolute’ (2010, p.63). The main aspect taken from this point of view is that computer games can be viewed and used as texts. They are a cultural form, which can reflect society, shape perspectives and promote a range of beliefs and values, as do other texts such as novels, picture books, films and plays. We access these texts regularly within the curriculum to promote, encourage and develop critical literacy skills and knowledge. Bradford elaborates this point by stating, ‘As complex, evolving forms, they invite analytical strategies which take account of the multifarious ways in which they produce meaning and create subject position for players’ (2010, p.54). Through her argument it is clear to see that these texts do have a place within our educational practices.

‘Gaming as learning’ can be accessed through three main avenues – learning through game play, learning about games and learning by making games. The avenue that has given me the most food for thought throughout this unit is ‘learning through game play.’ This type of learning focuses on games being used as textual resources, which can then be explored by their players (our students). Games can be considered as a textual form as they have a purpose, a particular language, an intended audience, multi-modal approach and representations of people, places, ideas and emotions. Viewing games as a text opens up a huge range of learning possibilities for critical literacy.

Studying games as texts is a powerful tool for teachers in our current digital learning environment as it is a genre many people, both children and adults relate to. Embedding these texts into the curriculum ensures purposeful and recognisable texts are being used to explore a range of narrative elements. Bradford discusses at length in her research the importance of subject positioning and how this can be achieved through using games as texts. Subject positioning encourages learners to focus on ‘the cultural work being carried out by texts.’ (Bradford, 2010, p.55) This occurs regularly when teaching and learning fiction, non-fiction and films, however when considering the subject position of gaming there is the added layer of activity and participation. Alexander Galloway argues that, ‘Without action, games remain only in the pages of an abstract rule book’ (Bradford, 2010, p.56). Through activity and participation with this genre, the users can access and explore concepts and information in order to solve problems and assess themselves throughout the learning journey.

Student engagement is another solid argument towards integrating gaming into learning. Ensuring students are engaged will in turn ensure that students have a sense of ownership over their learning, it will promote real life learning and understanding, as well as increasing students’ levels of confidence and resilience. Factors including experimentation, collaboration, being creative and learning through failing are all aspects associated with gaming that can lead to solid engagement and educational growth. James Gee, an expert in this field, discusses that gaming provides situated and embodied learning that is innovate, contextualised, deep, rich in information, whilst testing the students along the way as opposed to only at the end. All of these elements will also encourage student engagement and ownership, as the students are producing and instantly recognising their own learning.

Whilst games education provides us with the ability to develop digital media literacies and encourage an ongoing method of learning, there are also a range of educational challenges which must be considered. These challenges involve –

  • Differing levels of gaming/technology access for teachers and students
  • Differing levels of expertise in gaming/technology skills and knowledge for staff and students
  • Differing levels of ‘game literacy’
  • Financial/equipment constraints
  • Differing levels of teacher confidence and enthusiasm in this pedagogical shift
  • Teacher professional development on the importance of pedagogy when ‘teaching’ with technology
  • Games contributing to aggressive and antisocial behavior
  • Games contributing to poor health and obesity

Mary Ulicsak and Ben Williamson from UK based, Futurelab take a much more critical approach when discussing ‘gaming as learning.’ They explored in their ‘Computer Games and Learning’ Handbook (2010) many of the positives previously mentioned, however also take into consideration some of the challenges teachers and their students face when trying to employ this pedagogy. They state that ‘The stance that games have the potential to be relevant and meaningful and engage both teachers and learners — even if they do not, or cannot, revolutionise education — is not new. The difficulty lies in taking games and actually achieving this meaningful learning.’ (Ulicsak & Williamson, 2010, p.3) This is most certainly a major challenge for teachers and students, with the focus being on useful, real life learning instead of simply incorporating technology because we live in a digital society.

Games as a medium for learning aim to connect with the fact that they play a significant role in children’s and adolescent’s lives. They are considered to be motivating, engaging and challenging and from the research explored throughout this unit these facts have been discussed extensively. As a teacher librarian who has not yet incorporated games as a textual resource into my teaching and learning, I am both excited by the possibilities, however also nervous about where to start. I believe that they are an ideal platform for 21st century digital learning, however they must be incorporated into a balanced, well-planned and relevant curriculum.

This post has only touched upon a very narrow focus of a broad educational trend, if you are interested in accessing a well written, user friendly extension of this topic visit the link below – it is an informative read for all educators.


Posted by Sarah Scavarelli

Topic: Reflect on something significant you learned about youth popular culture in weeks 6-11



Bradford, C. (2010). Looking for my corpse: video games and player positioning. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 33(1), 54- 64.

James Gee on video games (video 5mins 50secs). Retrieved October 5, 2012 from

Pelletier, C. (2009). Games and learning: what’s the connection? International Journal of Learning and Media.  1(1), 83-101. Special Issue of Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 33(1).

Ulicsak, M. & Williamson, B. (2010). Computer Games and Learning. Futurelab, UK. Retrieved October 7, 2012 from

8 thoughts on “Gaming as Learning

  1. Pingback: Student blog posts – please comment on one if you can! « Kelli McGraw

  2. Sarah,

    I can understand your nervousness about where to begin including game-based learning in your library and classroom. It is not something that should be introduced without very careful consideration and thorough planning.

    Knowing my own sons obsession with video games, makes me think that one of the first hurdles in introducing games to a class, will be convincing students that the games are there as a tool for learning, and not enjoyment. Some would understand this, and other would find it difficult to come to terms with. I would expect the teacher would have to closely monitor their students and remind them of the purpose of the lesson. Perhaps the age of the students is something to consider when introducing game-based learning.

    There is no denying that gaming is a big part of youth culture.

    Lots to consider in your post. Thanks.

  3. Great post.

    I have been looking into the different games available for my grade 6/7 class (I teach in South Australia where Primary School goes up to grade 7).

    Mostly I am interested in games for the Ipads, particularly in the maths learning area. Like any teacher I often struggle with differentiating my lessons for the students who are above or below the standard. For the students who are pushing forward I find it easier to give them work, often setting up open ended tasks that will take them a week or so to complete, these students do the class work and then can move onto these mini-projects.

    However the lower level students are harder to adjust your lesson towards and I have started using maths games on the Ipads to help keep them engaged. These are of great advantage but obviously still need a purpose because otherwise it is too easy to just lose track of these kids.

    Any suggestions on how to incorporate these games into the lessons so that they do not become a more in-depth learning activity instead of what I call “Busy work” with no purpose?”

  4. Love the image on your site! Great points raised here and am delighted with the growing wave of teachers looking for new and often culturally subversive ways ti inspire learning! The best way to model learning is to get in the digital pool and start swimming around. There is no point shouting instuction and warnings from the bench. If we want to empower students we have to be at be modelling best practise and learning with and from them. Games with values, like texts are often the most powerful. I am sure there will be as many great games, as there are texts in the year’s to follow, with as many kids raising their hands, as in the image, waiting to discuss them.

  5. Hello there, I am so excited I found your site, I really found you by error, while I was researching on google for Educational Games , Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say kudos for a fantastic post and a all round thrilling blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to go through it all at the moment but I have saved it and also included your RSS feeds.

  6. Thank you for all of your feedback regarding my post – it is affirming to have like minded professionals sharing their opinions on this topic.

  7. Pingback: Education and Popular Culture

  8. Sarah you’re quite correct with “student engagement” being a very solid argument that has been the turning point at executive where I have been able to introduce Minecraft EDU into our Discovery Centre. Engaged learners is the aim of my life and as educators we need to recognise that ownership ensures that our students are connecting in an authentic manner where real life learning and understandings are built upon. The experimentation, collaboration, creative and tyring mentality are very important aspects that gaming encourage. You have rightly used James Gee (2003) as an example and I found Ben Williamson’s podcast very informative.
    I agree that games education enables digital media literacies to improve and it is my personal aim to continue to encourage students to use gaming as one method of learning Your list of challenges are similar to what I have been experiencing and with a supportive school and strong leadership amongst my team and IT and coordination staff it is my dream to be a part of the technological, social and communicative changes that are happening when gaming is embedded into the curriculum. Correctly and with consideration of all stakeholders educational challenges must be considered in order for this to be a success. Salen found that gaming requires students to analyse, build and modify many different kinds of dynamic systems – historical, physical, mathematical, technological, scientific, written and social” (2011, p. 16). Differentiation will always be a key consideration in all educational settings as will literacy and financial constraints. Confidence and enthusiasm are the pedagogical shift that is required in order to be part of this amazing 21st century.
    Gee, J. (2011, February 13). Digital Media – New Learners and the 21st Century Retrieved from
    Salen,K. (2011). Quest to Learn: Developing the School for Digital kids Macarthur Foundation Report on Digital Media and Learning: The MIT Press
    Williamson, B. (2009). Computer games, schools, and young people: A report for educators on using games for learning. Futurelab. (viewed: 22/10/12)

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