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The outdated mode of delivery of formal educational institutions where students passively come to be ‘filled up’ with knowledge delivered by ‘the expert’, does not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:


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

Gaming and Learning at the same time? Surely not!

I sat today with my 12 year old son and watched him play a game on the Xbox that he received from his cousins for his birthday.  I hadn’t really paid much attention to it before and have only just realized the rating is M15.  Feeling like a bad mother for allowing this game in the house I continued to watch to see if I could find any so called ‘learning experiences’ in the game.  It didn’t take too long and a few questions later to discover that he was actually really good at it and knew exactly what to do even though the game was only new.

There are actually quite a few skills that this game – Skyrim – has taught my son.  Firstly, I am amazed at how his eyes never left the screen and he was able to manipulate the controller with lightning speed without even a glance.  The game is centred on the main character accepting missions or quests to find treasures.  Of course, along the way he needs to kill people and gothic creatures but the way in which my son is able to choose weaponry to get the job done quickly is a skill in itself!  The gamer chooses to view the screen as a third party, where they can see themselves or from the point of view angle.  The language needed to understand the game and the instructions is quite advanced and I truly believe that gaming has given my son the ability to decipher more complex texts in other areas of his life.

The game also requires the gamer to solve riddles and puzzles to get to the next levels.  A lot of problem solving needs to be completed before the gamer can move on some of which involved intricate map reading and navigation skills.  There was a section in the game when a character was giving detailed instructions to help with the challenge although my son chose to skip this narration as he said he didn’t need to listen to it because he knew what to do.  I asked him how did he know if he had never played before and of course the answer came back –“YouTube”.  Ah –ha.  The answer to all of our prayers!

12 Year Old Gamer!

Multi -Media Minefield

As a teacher who has recently ventured into the depths of the librarian field, I was keen to get involved with technology.  I was already using it in my daily classroom activities but I wanted to get students excited about learning through using the technology that they were familiar with.  The multi-media club was hatched this semester as an after school program for those that were interested in learning more about technology.  At first, I was unsure as to what we would be learning (I include myself in the ‘we’).  I thought I would let the students drive the project and see where we ended up.  Because the club was considered an extra-curricula activity, we weren’t bound by any constraints around what we ‘should’ be learning.

I put this question to the students – “What do you want to learn?”  The group consisted of 12 boys and 7 girls.  They came up with the idea that they wanted to know how to video themselves playing Minecraft (an online/offline game about constructing and mining their own village) and then uploading that video to YouTube for others to see.  They wanted to publish their work.  This was something that I knew nothing about, both Minecraft and how to video it!  From here we discussed ways that we may be able to find out how to do it and of course, ask a 12-year-old and they will tell you to YouTube it.  So we YouTubed  “How to video yourself playing Minecraft”.

Within 5 minutes of our first club meeting, all 19 students had learned how to video their games and upload them!  The popular culture aspect of Minecraft gave the students a starting point as they all wanted to know how to show others their work.  From this first lesson, we then went on to create our own movie and ‘share’ it with others via YouTube.  The next week, we had another 15 students wanting to join the club because the others told them “We just play Minecraft”.  I love the fact that they now have new skills that can be transferred into other learning areas as well as new knowledge to share with others.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All

I spent some time recently with a group of teenage boys who, even though apparently its deemed not ‘cool’ anymore, still get together to play Pokemon. For some reason, the craze that swept the world when they were four years old is still alive and well in their hearts. For the uninitiated, Pokemon began in Japan in 1996 before sweeping through the rest of the world in the form of a game, cards, cartoon and of course thousands of licenced items including clothing and toys. The game takes place in an imaginary land inhabited by creatures called Pokemon (pocket monsters). The object of the game is for the player (Pokemon trainer) to catch as many of the creatures as he or she can which is where the slogan ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’ comes in. The more Pokemon caught, the more badges trainers receive with the hope of becoming a Pokemon master. Pokemon trainers battle their Pokemon against other trainers’ pokemon at gyms to gain experience and more badges. Pokemon don’t die in battles which is nice. they just faint or fall asleep and need to go to the Pokemon centre to be restored.

In 2004, Nintendo released a study about the benefits of the Pokemon games. A survey of 2098 parents revealed that:

  • 77% (of parents interviewed believed that Pokemon games) enhanced strategic thinking
  • 76% promote positive values
  • 68% improves memory skills
  • 60% increases mental agility and awareness 

Several pokemon battles later, I asked the boys why they enjoyed playing Pokemon and what they saw as ‘educational reasons’ for playing it. This is what they came up with:

  • Fun – First of all its fun. We enjoy hanging out and doing something we don’t need to think about too much. It’s social.
  • Multitasking – Who says men can’t multitask? we can play Pokemon, eat, trash talk each other’s Pokemon and have a conversation all at the same time.
  • Evolution and Genetics – Pokemon breed and evolve. It’s all about genetics as well as survival of the fittest and working out how you want your Pokemon to turn out – who to breed them with and how to train them.
  • Probability/Statistics – There are lots of mathematical skills involved in playing Pokemon. Each Pokemon has different strengths and when they go up against each other you need to be aware of the probability of your Pokemon winning against the other one and the statistics of your Pokemon in past battles to decide whether to use them or not.
  • Predictions – Being able to predict outcomes is handy and relates back to life. If something behaves a certain way you can be relatively sure about what happens. If your Pokemon is a certain type and a particular level you can predict how its going to go against another Pokemon.
  • Problem Solving – When you battle you look at weaknesses in your team and build on them without taking away from your strengths. It helps you assess the other team quickly too and strategize the best way to win and to constantly reassess and try again.
  • Cooperation/Negotiation/Organisational Skills – Transferable, useful skills for real life that occur when planning to trade Pokemon with each other. You need to have your team organised and balanced with different types of Pokemon in order to be able to battle whatever comes up. Negotiation is very important to get that elusive Pokemon in order to complete your team.
  • Memory – Not only do you have to have a great memory to remember all of the different Pokemon, you need to be able to recall their evolved form, what type they are, what level they are, and where the elusive and rare Pokemon can be found in the wild.
  • Compassion and Responsibility– It takes empathy, compassion and responsibility to become a real Pokemon trainer. A caring trainer looks after their Pokemon and makes sure they are well fed and rested in order to get the best performance out of them. Pokemon also has great examples of friendship and loyalty between Pokemon and trainers and also between trainers on quests.

    Pokemon battle

What I found really interesting was the way the boys related the skills back to their own lives and how they used what they have learned playing Pokemon to help them in different situations. It was also obvious that I underestimated what boys got from playing video games and I look forward to more playing and conversations to unravel the mystery.