WWII and Video Game Learning

It is an interesting contradiction that while history is often viewed as the most boring subject at school, historical-based video games fly off the shelves – often to the same kids that can’t stand their history classes. The topic has been hugely researched – not just in terms of teaching history, but in terms of teaching anything at all – and it seems fairly conclusive that video game environments offer a rich base for teaching and spring-boarding interest into further study. This particular study acknowledges that, and move on quickly. Instead of focusing on what an education-based historical game could do for the classroom, it focuses on what gamers who already play history-themed games learn from and feel about these games (keep in mind that these games are designed primarily for entertainment, and teaching takes a rather decided backseat).

But first, another example of collected rationalisations of why video games are great learning environments: “video games teach the way humans are psychologically structured to learn (Gee, 2003; Jackson, 2009; Shafer, 2007); this generation of students are attuned to learning multimodally (Kellner, 2004; Kress, 2003; Lotherington, 2005); video games create a fun and engaging learning environment that can hold a player’s attention voluntarily and for long periods of time (de Castell & de Jenson, 2004; Goldhaber, 1997; Lankshear & Knobel, 2002).” (p.71)

“video games encourage players to engage in active, critical thinking and to take risks in an environment where the player receives feedback immediately and constantly, exploration is rewarded, meaning is contextualized and information is delivered using different modalities (image, text, sounds, etc.).” (p.73)

Players who had more prior knowledge of WWII were more inclined to make better use of the new knowledge they gained from playing WWII based video games, were more interested in it and filtered it better, adding to their prior knowledge. Participants in the study agreed that information gleaned from games was ‘cooler’ and ‘more interesting’ than that learned at school, even though both situations may cover the same topic.

After covering the topic of the war in school, the participants were disappointed with what they had been learnt and how they had been taught; they’d expected a teaching style similar to what they were used to in games like CoD – “focused on military-related events, full of unusual or extraordinary accounts, and told from an in-depth or individualised point of view.” (p.78) The participants disliked the ‘macro-view’ given to them of the war, and wanted to see things more from the single soldier’s point of view – just like an FPS. This is, I feel, actually something that would help engage most of the classroom and not just those who play these sorts of games – people enjoy and connect much better to personalised stories because they mean more than dates and battle names, and they allow the reader/viewer to become emotionally connected to the topic rather than approaching it from the outside.

On a side note, the participants of the study seemed keen to share their knowledge gained from games in the classroom setting, however they unanimously agreed that they never shared that the source of the information is a game, as even if the info is correct it would be looked down on as an ‘incorrect source’.


REF: Fisher, S. (2011). Playing with World War II: A Small-Scale Study of Learning in Video Games. Loading…, 5(8). Retrieved fromhttp://journals.sfu.ca/loading/index.php/loading/article/view/96/107



The Power of Tangential Learning

(an article by James Portnow)

The problem with ‘educational games’ is that they often forget about (or are not aware enough of)  the ‘game’ aspect and instead focus only on the educational value. This results in direct attempts to teach rather than exposing the player to new knowledge through which they can instigate learning of their own volition.

In the realm of video games there is a huge divide between games designed for teaching, and games designed for entertainment. It is quite commonly believed that a game cannot both educate and be great entertainment (though in my opinion, if a game doesn’t give good entertainment value than in fails dismally as a game), a view which really needs to be re-evaluated.

‘Educational games’ or now, ‘serious games’ are generally created with the knowledge that if someone is interested in a topic they’ll learn more, faster, and with an eager disposition. They assume that by turning their topic into a game it will force that interest onto the player, making it more exciting, and thus help them learn better. Which is a noble thought, but this is just a ‘jazzing up’ of a topic the user does not care about, rather than trying to design something that the user wants to learn. Serious games need to create intrinsic motivation to learn in their users rather than attempt to force learning onto them.

Tangential learning is not what you learn by being taught but rather what you learn by being exposed to things in a context which you are already highly engaged in.”

James speaks here about ways to engage and encourage your audience to search things outside of your game, which is not exactly what I’m looking for, though it’s on the right track. What I want is ways to engage your audience within the game, without sacrificing that necessary element of ‘fun’.

“I do not believe we should sacrifice the soul of what we do in order to give it meaning. Games, first and foremost, need to be fun.

But what they must be is not all they can be.”



REF:The Power of Tangential Learning (2008, September 10). Edge. Retrieved from http://www.edge-online.com/features/power-tangential-learning/

Serious games in language learning and teaching

I don’t think I’ve really covered this before, but ‘serious games’ is the new buzzword that’s taken over ‘educational games’ and ‘edutainment’. So really, I should be referring to my project as trying to design and build a serious game. But first, my (very opinionated) two cents: I very much dislike the term ‘serious games’. Why? Because if you’re creating a game for educational purposes, I believe that first and foremost it has to be a game, and make the most of the things games can offer – otherwise you may as well be presenting in a different medium (which may be a better idea for your topic; games are not the only answer). As soon as you call your game a ‘serious game’ you’re cutting out a humungous potential audience, who may actually enjoy your game and learn something from it. But if they are looking for entertainment – as they most likely are – they are going to avoid anything with the word ‘serious’ in it like the plague. The idea of ‘serious games’ is to interested the uninterested learner, and presenting it like any other part of the curriculum is not going to do that. Anyhow, I digress. Good to get that off my chest.

559. “Serious Games are defined as digital games and equipment with an agenda of educational design beyond entertainment.”

561. “In off school contexts, children thus generally understand and use languages as a means for communication, information gathering and gaming, whereas in schools the understanding and use of languages is often understood to be a goal of the activities.” This is interesting, and is another return to the importance of context. People are more driven by something if they have a personal, concrete goal for it; learning English ‘just to learn English and get a good grade’ gives little motivation compared to learning English ‘so I can figure out the best armour to kit my League of Legends character in’. The learning itself should not be the end goal, the end goal should be the context.

561. “games are not necessarily about memorizing or providing correct answers, but rather about the performance of skills within a specific system of thinking and acting.” The players are not thinking about the language itself, but rather the message hidden in it and where that will take them next.

565. Serious games should be understood to “both ‘contain’ knowledge and invite learners to participate in creating knowledge.”



REF: Holm Sorenson, B., & Meyer, B. (2007). Serious Games in language learning and teaching – a theoretical perspective. In Situated Play (559-566). The University of Tokyo, Japan.

Cops and Rubbers, Hazard Identification

These are examples of teaching a very specific topic to an audience. ‘Cops and Rubbers’ is a card game, while the OH&S hazard identification game is digital.

Cops and Rubbers was designed in order to get people aware of a problem in some states of America and many developing countries: condoms were (are?) being taken from prostitutes as evidence of their job and then they would often be taken into custody. This mean they had to make a choice – do they continue to keep condoms on their person, protecting themselves from HIV and other diseases, or would they rather risk it and avoid police confrontation? This is a dangerous choice to force people to make, and it seems ridiculous that such a rule is still in place in the first world. The game placed players in the position of sex workers who then had to constantly face this risky decision – get caught, or get diseases?

This, however, is possibly most important: “ultimately the physical game attracted a greater audience to the [official document about sex workers] because of the inherent spectacle and level of engagement a tabletop game creates.” (p. 5)

p.5) “at least a quarter of the players had walked by and seen a group of people getting emotional and vocal playing the game, stayed to observe the rest of that game session, and then decided to join in the next game session”

And despite the rather serious, unpleasant topic, people said they found the game enjoyable because of its “accessibility with quick and easy gameplay and its high level of engagement”.


The hazard game, on the other hand, was created for a very specific audience; construction workers in Australia who need to know how to identify and eliminate hazards onsite as part of their training, as it is can be a very dangerous job (11% of all ACC claims in AU come from this area) and not all hazards can be identified prior to work starting.

Originally they provided these safety tests through classroom and online environments, but found that many workers switched off and just didn’t gain anything from them – in fact, 91% of workers failed to complete the online readings. They decided to try designing a game instead as construction workers tend to be hand-on people, and they felt interactivity would be more engaging. This was greatly successful, a shown by the graphs of many questions asked of the players.

3. “Games often break down complex tasks into smaller more manageable tasks that cater for the individual pace of the player and give immediate and continuous feedback along the way”


REF: Lien, T. (2013). Cops & rubbers: a game promoting advocacy and empathy in support of public health and human rights of sex workers. Retrieved from http://www.digra.org/wp-content/uploads/digital-library/paper_109.pdf

Greuter, S. & Tepe, S. (2013). Engaging students in OH&S hazard identification through a game. In DiGRA 2013 – DeFragging Game Studies. Atlanta, GA, USA.

Gamers don’t finish video games?

This is a bit of a tangent, but I was scrolling through the references of a ‘serious game’ article and found the title “Why most people don’t finish video games”. I was confused, and intrigued; how did they come to this conclusion when last year I watched my flatmate play Bioshock Infinite to completion not once, but three times – in a row? And when I’ve heard Alan complain because he’s found every single item and maxed out all his character levels (after completing the storyline, of course) in Borderlands 2?

Basically, the article says that the base age of game players has gone up to 37, who thus have full-time jobs to worry about, kids and family responsibilities etc. so they don’t want long games. They want short, sweet bursts of playing that can be found in online multiplayer spaces like CoD or Halo matches. Now the two guys I mentioned before aren’t nearing their forties, but they both work full-time jobs and have girlfriends. While yes, it’s true that some people prefer short matches, what the article forgets is that there is more than one type of person who plays games. I don’t mean this in that the differences are male and female, young and old – though that is certainly true – I mean that we all play games for different reasons. Did the article write conveniently forget the millions of people who dedicate a lifetime of hours to MMO’s such as LoL or WoW?

The article suggested that long, epic journeys are a thing of the past, and that people want shorter, more bite-sized game experiences. The comment section said, in a near collective voice, “F#$% you. That’s the last thing we want.” There was also an unanimous, “Why would I pay $60 for a game that I can finish in a day (8-10 hours)?” And considering AAA games in New Zealand usually start at double that, I’m highly inclined to agree.



REF: Snow, J. (2011, August 17). Why most people don’t finish video games [article]. http://edition.cnn.com/2011/TECH/gaming.gadgets/08/17/finishing.videogames.snow/index.html

Video games, learning and literacy

James Gee speaks about the ‘literary’ code of games, and the way ‘literacy’ should no longer mean just read and writing. It should also be experiencing, and exists in all different domains. If I asked my flatmates what MMORPG stands for, only one of them could probably answer correctly. This is because while I am somewhat literate in the world of gaming, and in particular role-playing games, and they are not. A game is another language, another domain of knowledge. This book is more about how any game can teach you something rather than how games can be made specifically to teach something.


21. The general Western belief is that “important knowledge” comes in the form of information involved with intellectual games or academic disciplines such as history, literature or physics. Anything else is regarded as a waste of time, and video games are, of course, head of this list.

39. “If learning is to be active, it must involve experiencing the world in new ways.”

45. Things you may gain from playing video games, if you play in a way that involves active and critical thinking:
1. Learning to experience (see and act on) the world in a new way
2. Gaining the potential to join and collaborate with a new affinity group
3. Developing resources for future learning and problem solving in the semiotic domains to which the game is related
4. learning how to think about semiotic domains as design spaces that engage and manipulate people in certain ways and, in turn, help create certain relationships in society among people and groups of people, some of which have important implications for social justice.


REF: Gee, J. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.