Gaming = fun + learning

Engaging with video games from an early age.

The outdated mode of delivery of formal educational institutions where students passively come to be ‘filled up’ with knowledge delivered by ‘the expert’, does not accurately reflect the multi-modal technology-filled world our students are actively engaged with outside the school gates. Students from an early age are accessing and engaging with technology on their parents’ iPhones or iPads and can often operate them better than older generations while they are still in nappies. Computer and video games have often been targeted as ‘the enemy’ by parents and teachers alike for dragging students away from their learning and reducing them to unresponsive zombies, mesmerised by the annoyingly repetitive and catchy music or by constant gunfire coming from the television or computer speakers. Perhaps though, educators and parents need to look at games and recognise their potential as an avenue for 21st Century learning and developing digital media literacies.

Today’s youth are the digital natives in the computer and video game world where aural, visual and digital literacy overlap.  In the article Looking for my corpse: Video games and player positioning, Bradford looks at understanding literacy in the digital world through her interaction with video games. Her study comprises three strands: Video games as textual forms; young people’s experience of video games; and professional development of teachers in relation to video games (Bradford, 2010: 55). What is clear from the article is that traditional tools of analysis such as narratology which looks at the structure of narratives; ludology which looks at how rules function in game-playing; and film studies, which draws from literary and cultural theories, are rather ineffective when used to analyse digital media such as computer/video games. This is because traditional tools of analysis are incapable of accounting for the complexity of games and experiences of playing (2010: 54). Activity is an important part of the game experience and the players’ depth of experience can depend upon the textual knowledge they bring to the game. There is also the social component that exists with games where players can invite others to play within the game as well as playing together in a group outside the game that doesn’t exist with other text types. Bradford makes a good point when she states that ‘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: 63).

The participatory culture of video and computer games is modifying the skills necessary to engage with media literacy. Students need the ability to understand the power of images and sounds, to recognize and use that power; work in multi-modal levels and layers of understanding; assess the reliability of data and develop technical skills as well as still being able to read and write. Just as the emergence of written language changed oral traditions and the emergence of printed texts changed our relationship to written language, the emergence of new digital modes of expression changes our relationship to printed texts. Youth must expand their required competencies, not push aside old skills to make room for the new (Jenkins, 2007) which goes against the popular-held belief that students switch their brains off when the game goes on.

Jenkins has identified a list of eleven core skills that are needed to participate within the new media landscape as our students move from ‘the realms of play and education and into the adult world of work and society’ (2007: 99). The skills he identified and benefits of playing computer games are listed below:

  1. PLAY – through play, students can experiment, explore their immediate surroundings and try on roles. Play can motivate other forms of learning and integrate other experiences, skills and practices.
  2. SIMULATION – the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real world processes which allows students to deal with large bodies of information, to form hypotheses quickly and test them against different variables in real time.
  3. PERFORMANCE – the ability to adopt alternative identities and to understand problems from multiple viewpoints. Performance also provides opportunities to respond to changing environments and assimilate information.
  4. APPROPRIATION – the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content. Meaning is created by pulling apart existing media content and adding to it. Often, remixing involves the creative juxtaposition of materials that otherwise occupy very different cultural niches. Appropriation in this case involves both analysis and commentary.
  5. MULTI-TASKING – learners filter out extraneous information and sharpen their focus on the most salient details of their environment. Young people can scan for relevant shifts in the information flow while simultaneously taking in multiple stimuli and often responding to stimulus outside the game at the same time.
  6. DISTRIBUTED COGNITION – instead of intelligence being contained and limited to an individual, the technological and socio-cultural environment of game playing allows meaningful interaction with tools that expand our mental capacities.
  7. COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE – game playing also allows social production of knowledge when groups of people (usually online) come together with diverse skills and knowledge to confront a specific complex challenge. In this model, everyone knows something, nobody knows everything, and what any one person knows can be tapped by the group as a whole.
  8. JUDGMENT –  the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources by learning how to read one source of information against another and to understand the contexts within which the information is produced and circulated.
  9. TRANSMEDIA NAVIGATION – the ability to deal with the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities. Game playing offers multiple points of entry, enables many different forms of participation and facilitates the interests of multiple consumers. It also allows young people to become adept at interpreting meaning in sound, music, still and moving images and interactive components.
  10. NETWORKING – knowledge production has become a collective process and communication occurs across an array of different media, so the capacity to network is emerging as a core social skill and cultural competency. Learning in a networked society involves the ability to search for, synthesize and disseminate information as well as effectively tap social networks to disperse one’s own ideas and media products.
  11. NEGOTIATION – the ability to travel across diverse communities and acquire skills in understanding multiple perspectives, respecting and embracing diversity of views, understanding a variety of social norms, and negotiating between conflicting opinions.

It is obvious from the list of skills that games are worth taking seriously because they activate new forms of textuality and create learning opportunities that are necessary in real life. Primarily, students play games because they are fun. Watching them play computer or video games you can see they are engaged, interested, competitive, cooperative, results-orientated, and actively seeking information and solutions (Prensky, 2003: 1). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our students had the same attitude towards school and their learning?

I think video and computer games are useful motivators to get disengaged students engaged. Programs like Reading Eggs and Mathletics are used at our school to engage students. Students with low literacy or English as a second language use Reading Eggs and they enjoy it because learning becomes learner-centred, it is fun and motivational because the student can see themselves (as their pimped out chicken) progressing along the pathway and earning certificates. A lot of people dismiss games without trying them or learning about them. Television is a more powerful (and educational) experience if you watch shows together and talk about and discuss what you have seen together, so why not talk to teenagers about what they are playing? Students enjoy playing games on the computers at lunch time in the library and I always use it as an opportunity to see what is new and popular. I make a point of asking them as well, ‘what skills do you need to play that?’ At first they used to just look at me funny, but now they can tell me that they are making predictions or using their memory Often they don’t see it as a learning opportunity at first but over time, they have been able to tell me what new skills they have gained which goes to show how important it is to talk about learning students are interested in.

Perhaps game designers can teach educators how to create more fun, engaging and effective education by using gaming techniques to keep students interested and motivated. Why shouldn’t learning equal fun for students and teachers? Play on!


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

Jenkins, H. (2007). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture – Media Education for the 21st Century (Part 2). Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy 2, 98 – 112. Accessed from:

Jonsson, S. (2009). Are games more than fun? Motivational aspects on digital games. Accessed from: 

Prensky, M. (2001). Fun, Play and Games: What Makes Games Engaging from Digital Game-Based Learning. McGraw-Hill. Chapter 5. Accessed from:

Prensky, M. (2002). The motivation of gameplay: The real twenty-first century learning revolution. On the Horizon. 10(1) 5 – 11. Accessed from:


2 thoughts on “Gaming = fun + learning

  1. Pingback: CLN647 Group N 2012 - Watchin, Talking and Playing A Game

  2. Thank you for an informative and thorough post, I really enjoyed reading it. Indeed it would be wonderful if our students were interested, cooperative, active and engaged. My own son is certainly all of those things when he is playing a computer game!
    I agree that games improve motivation and have watched my own children participating enthusiastically on Reading Eggs and Mathletics. In fact, I don’t think my daughter has ever done so much maths homework.
    I love your point about having game designers teach teachers how to create vibrant lessons. Imagine if we really could collaborate and tap into each other’s skills. Our students would certainly benefit from such an approach to curriculum planning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *