Notes for James Paul Gee What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

Key concepts: active learning, affinity group, appreciative system, community of practice, concentrated sample, connectionism, critical learning, design grammars, distributed knowledge, embodied stories, garden paths, identity (virtual, real, projective), jigsaw method of cooperative learning, multimodal literacy, new literacy studies, pleasantly frustrating, psychosocial moratorium, reciprocal teaching, regime of competence, semiotic domains, situated cognition, subjectivity, zone of proximal development.

Discusses situated cognition along with connectionism and new literacy studies as the key research areas, his division of scholarly and scientific research. Manageable complexity is the term I have been using to identify this type of activity with respect to learning about technology, particular how computers work. For Gee this basic drive, unconscious rhetoric is pleasantly frustrating, found at outer edges of regime of competence. Programming with literacy or math are Engelbart type c, improving improvement activities. Semiotic domains go beyond content to situated practices. Distinguishes active and critical learning. Excellent articulation of what active and critically played games can do that print texts cannot relates to ergodic properties. Tripartite play of virtual, real, projective identities. Example of learning algebra by programming simulations of Galileo's principles for active, potentially critical learning, in what become, for the person working code, embodied stories, exercising the probe, hypothesize, reprobe, rethink expert reflective cycle. Mental action based on stored images and simulations of experience instead of applying generalizations to facts. Becoming designers is the common outcome of all active, critical learning. Recognizes that few will become game producers, but can participate in community discourse about game evaluation and design, which reveals the great quantity of written texts associated with video games. Garden-path danger in unguided exploratory play learning the principle criticism of Papert. Concentrated sample is better approach for bottom up learning. Tie in Spinuzzi, Castells, Clark and Chalmers, Hayles to distributed knowledge social cognition as new model of subjectivity. Policy maker incentive to produce knowledge workers replaced with service workers; little wonder superior learning opportunities discoverable in playing video games.

Related theorists: Ann Brown, Campione, Castells, Clark, diSessa, Lave, Murray, Norman, Ryan, Spinuzzi, Turkle, Vygotsky, Willingham, Zizek.


(1) I am mainly concerned with games in which the player takes on the role of a virtual character moving through an elaborate world, solving problems, or in which the player builds and maintains complex entities like armies, cities, or even whole civilizations.

Manageable complexity is the term I have been using to identify this type of pleasantly frustrating activity Gee sensed playing Time Machine, with respect to learning about technology, particular how computers work.

(3) The experience [playing Time Machine] brought home to me, forcefully, that learning should be both frustrating and life enhancing, what I will later call “pleasantly frustrating.”
(4) In the end, then, video games represent a process—thanks to what Marx called the “creativity of capitalism”--that leads to better and better designs for good learning and, indeed, good learning of hard and challenging things.

Looking for theory of human learning built into good video games; compare his arguments to those of Willingham.

(4) What we are really looking for here is this: the theory of human learning built into good video games.
(5) If the principles of learning in good video games are good, then better theories of learning are embedded in the video games many children in elementary and high school play than in the schools they attend.

(5) In two earlier books,
Social Linguistics and Literacies and The Social Mind, I argued that literacy and thinking—two things that, at first sight, seem to be “mental” achievements—are in reality also and primarily social and cultural achievements.
(7) Any specific way of reading and thinking is, in fact, a way of being in the world, a way of being a certain “kind of person,” a way of taking on a certain sort of identity. In that sense, each of use has multiple identities.
(7) As a gamer now, I have come to realize that there is a new way to state my views on reading and thinking: Real life works something like a massive multiplayer game—a game like
World of WarCraft.
(7) As for learning being specific, video games teach us that a good game teaches the player primarily how to play the game and, then, to be able to generalize to games like it. But all learning is, I would argue, learning to play “the game.”


Employs situated cognition, new literacy studies and connectionism.

(8-9) This book discusses 36 principles of learning (individually in each chapter and listed together in the appendix) built into good video games. However, this book has another goal as well. It seeks to use the discussion of video games to introduce the reader to three important areas of current research and to relate these areas to each other. One of these areas is work on “situated cognition(i.e., thinking as tied to bodies that have experiences in the world). This work argues that human learning is not just a matter of what goes on inside people's heads but is fully embedded in (situated within) a material, social, and cultural world.
(9) Another one of these areas is the so called
New Literacy Studies, a body of work that argues that reading and writing should be viewed not only as mental achievements going on inside people's heads, but also as social and cultural practices with economic, historical, and political implications.
(9) The third area is work on so-called
connectionism, a view that stresses the ways in which human beings are powerful pattern recognizers. This body of work argues that humans don't often think at their best when they attempt to reason via logic and general abstract principles detached from experience. Rather, they think best when they reason on the basis of patterns they have picked up through their actual experiences in the world, patterns that, over time, can become generalized but that are still rooted in specific areas of embodied experience.

(10) Nonetheless, we can learn a lot from those young people who play games, if only we take them and their games seriously. And, indeed, I am always struck by how many people, even some of the liberal advocates of multiculturalism, readily decry and seek to override people's cultures when these cultures are popular peer-based ones centered around things like video games.
(12) Technologies have effects—and different ones—only as they are situated within specific contexts.
(13) There is growing evidence that today a great many young girls play video games, but sometimes give them up by middle school, the same time they tend to give up science and math as “unfeminine.” This is something we should worry about, since video games and modifying video games (“modding”) appears to be one route boys use to get into information technology skills and careers.

(14) In order not to clutter the text with references, I will not insert references directly into the text but will instead give citations to the literature in a bibliographical note at the end of each chapter.


(17) When people learn to play video games, they are learning a new
(18) Video gaming, as well will see throughout this book, is a
multimodal literacy par excellence.
(18) Literacy in any domain is actually not worth much if one knows nothing about the social practices of which that literacy is but a part.
(18-19) We need to think in terms of what I will call
semiotic domains. . . . Words an all these other things are all signs (symbols, representations, whatever term you want to use) that “stand for” (take on) different meanings in different situations, contexts, practices, cultures, and historical periods.

Semiotic domains are practices recruiting modalities to communicate meanings.

(19) By a semiotic domains I mean any set of practices that recruits one or more modalities (e.g., oral or written language, images, equations, symbols, sounds, gestures, graphs, artifacts, etc.) to communicate distinctive types of meanings.

(22) The problem with the content view is that an academic discipline (or any other semiotic domain, for that matter) is not primarily content, in the sense of facts and principles. It is primarily a lived and historically changing set of distinctive social practices. It is in these social practices that “content” is generated, debated, and transformed via distinctive ways of thinking, talking, valuing, acting, and, often, writing and reading.

(24) These three things, then, are involved in active learning:
experiencing the world in new ways, forming new affiliations, and preparation for future learning.

Active and critical learning reinforce importance of situated meanings in semiotic domains over sheer informational content.

(25) The learner needs to learn not only how to understand and produce meanings in a particular semiotic domain but, in addition, needs to learn how to think about the domain at a “meta” level as a complex system of interrelated parts. The learner also needs to learn how to innovate in the domain—how to produce meanings that, while recognizable to experts in the domain, are seen as somehow novel or unpredictable.

(26) Meaning is both situation (context) and domain specific.
(26) learning in any semiotic domain crucially involves learning how to situate (build) meanings for that domain in the sorts of situations the domain involves.


Affinity group are people associated with semiotic domain; compare to members of Dumit virtual circle.

(27) I will call the group of people associated with a given semiotic domain—in this case, first-person shooter games—an affinity group.
(28) We can take in internal view of a discipline in terms of its content (facts, theories, and principles) or an external view in terms of its social practices and the ways in which people interact within the field.
(28) The relationship between the internal and external is reciprocal.

(28-29) By an internal design grammar, I mean the principles and patterns in terms of which one can recognize what is and what is not acceptable or typical content in a semiotic domain. By an external design grammar, I mean the principles and patterns in terms of which one can recognize what is and what is not an acceptable or typical social practice and identity in regard to the affinity group associated with a semiotic domain.

Tie design grammars to system versus user centered design.

(30) Because I want us to think about the fact that for any semiotic domain, whether it is first-person shooter games, architecture, or linguistics, that domain, internally and externally, was and is designed by someone.


Critical learning seems to imply ergodic relationship to texts in general, including games.

(34-35) What we are dealing with here is talking and thinking about the (internal) design of the game, about the game as a complex system of interrelated parts meant to engage and even manipulate the player in certain ways. This is metalevel thinking, thinking about the game as a system and a designed space. Such thinking can open up critique of the game. It can also lead to novel moves and strategies, sometimes ones that the game makers never anticipated.
(37) Such learning—just like Pikmin—encourages exploration, hypothesis testing, risk taking, persistence past failure, and seeing “mistakes” as new opportunities for progress and learning.

Practicing identity, recruiting subjectivity in active and critical use outside school may advantage certain groups (boys playing videogames).

(37) An issue of social justice is at stake here in regard to the distribution of, and access to, this identity, whether through video games or science. We can note, as well, that the boy is using the video game to practice this identity, for many hours, at an early age, outside of science instruction in school, which may take up very little of the school day.

(38) Good games—and the games get better in this respect all the time—are crafted in ways that encourage and facilitate active and critical learning and thinking.
(39) Semiotic domains in society are connected to other semiotic domains in a myriad of complex ways. One of these is that knowledge of a given domain can be a good precursor for learning another one, because mastering the meaning-making skills in, and taking on the identity associated with, the precursor domain facilitates learning in the other domain.

Contrast this prediction to the findings of learning programming not appearing to transfer skills to other domains; what of unconscious connections from childhood gaming in adulthood?

(40) In interviews my research team and I have conducted with videogame players, we have found a number of young people who have used the domain of video games as a fruitful precursor domain for mastering other semiotic domains tied to computers and related technologies.

Excellent articulation of what active and critically played games can do that print texts cannot relates to ergodic properties.

(40-41) The content of video games, when they are played actively and critically, is something like this: They situate meaning in a multimodal space through embodied experiences to solve problems and reflect on the intricacies of the design of imagined worlds and the design of both real and imagined social relationships and identities in the modern world.


Learning principles at end of chapter 2: active, critical learning; design; semiotic; semiotic domains; metalevel thinking about semiotic domains.


(46) Video games recruit identities and encourage identity work and reflection on identities in clear and powerful ways. If schools worked in similar ways, learning in school would be more successful and powerful because it would become the active and critical learning discussed in the last chapter.

(49) First, there is a
virtual identity: one's identity as a virtual character in the virtual world of Arcanum.
(49-50) A second identity that is at stake in playing a game like
Arcanum is a real-world identity: namely, my own identity as “James Paul Gee,” a nonvirtual person playing a computer game.
(50) Of course, these identities become relevant only as they affect and are filtered through my identity as a video-game player playing
(50) A third identity that is at stake in playing a game like
Arcanum is what I will call a projective identity, playing on two senses of the word “project,” meaning both “to project one's values and desires onto the virtual character” (Bead Bead, in this case) and “seeing the virtual character as one's own proejct in the making, a creature whom I imbue with a certain trajectory through time defined by my aspirations for what I want that character to be and become (within the limitations of her capacities, of course, and within the resources the game designer has given me).”
(51) consider that each of these three identities I am talking about can fail (or for that matter, succeed) in different sorts of ways.

Compare and contrast tripartite play of virtual, real-work and projective identities to Murray and Ryan.

(53-54) This tripartite play of identities (a virtual identity, a real-world identity, and a projective identity) in the relationship “player as virtual character” is quite powerful. It transcends identification with characters in novels or movies, for instance, because it is both active (the play actively does things) and reflexive, in the sense that once the player has made some choices about the virtual character, the virtual character is now developed in a way that sets certain parameters about what the player can now do.

(54) People cannot learn in a deep way within a semiotic domain if they are not willing to commit themselves fully to the learning in terms of time, effort, and active engagement. Such a commitment requires that they are willing to see themselves in terms of a new identity, that is, to see themselves as the
kind of person who can learn, use, and value the new semiotic domain. In turn, they need to believe that, if they are successful learners in the domain, they will be valued and accepted by others committed to that domain—that is, by people in the affinity group with the domain.
(55) In a good science classroom, a virtual identity is at stake. . . . The teacher must put into motion, in the classroom, a set of values, beliefs, and ways with words, deeds, and interactions that represent, for the teacher and the students, what it means to be a particular kind of scientist in the classroom.
(56) In good science classrooms, the learners' real-world identities are involved (“
learner as scientist”).
(57) If a child brings to science learning a real-world identity as a learner, a school learner, or a school science learner who is already damaged—and a good many children do—then this identity needs to be repaired before any active, critical learning can occur here and now.
(57) Furthermore, if children cannot or will not make bridges between one or more of their real-world identities and the virtual identity at stake in the classroom (here, a particular type of scientist)--of if teachers or others destroy or don't help build such bridges—then, once again, learning is imperiled.

Turkle also discusses psychosocial moratorium.

(59) Even more important, I learned that video games create what the psychologist Eric Erickson has called a psychosocial moratoriumthat is, a learning space in which the learner can take risks where real-world consequences are lowered.
(62) When learners take on a projective identity, they want the scientist they are “playing” to be a certain sort of person and to have had a certain sort of history in the learning trajectory of this classroom.
(63) If learners in classrooms carry learning so far as to take on a projective identity, something magical happens. The learner comes to know that he or she has the
capacity, at some level, to take on the virtual identity as a real-world identity.

Sense of capacity to take on virtual identity as real world identity is transformative magic of good education.

(63) Often it is enough they they have sensed new powers in themselves. They will, possibly for a lifetime, be able to empathize with, affiliate with, learn more about, and even critique science as a valued but vulnerable human enterprise.


Learning principles at end of chapter 3: psychosocial moratorium, committed learning, identity, self-knowledge, amplification of input, achievement, practice, ongoing learning, regime of competence.

Thus lots of activity, as practice, has net result of developing skill: are we enchanted couch potatoes or doers, producers, prodigious writers and now coders.

(65) On thing that designers of video games realize, but that many schools seem not to, is that learning for human beings is in large part a practice effect.

A very elegant but wordy like Castells whole book to teach a few concepts description of the effect of logotropos rhetoric asymptotically equivalent to programmed operation: basically saying good instructional examples of repeatable, multipurposive skills are needed to be built into the product, or more simply, manageable complexity of pleasantly frustrating technical problems of real virtualities, for which programming with literacy or math are Engelbart type c, improving improvement activities.

(66) Mastering literacy or math as a set of routinized procedures without being able to use these procedures proactively within activities that one understands and for the accomplishment of one's own goals will not lead to learners who learn quickly and well as they face new semiotic domains throughout their lives.
(67) A cycle of automatization, adaptation, new learning, and new automatization is a sine qua non of learning for those who want to survive as active thinkers in a fast-changing world that requires the mastery of ever newer semiotic domains. Video games are quite adept at creating and sustaining this cycle.

Regime of competence also another critical concept making analysis by Gee more subtle than those producing learned and taught helplessness concepts discussed by Norman.

(67-68) While good video games offer players ample opportunity to practice and even automatize their skills at various levels, they also always build in many opportunities for learners to operate at the outer edge of their regime of competence, thereby causing them to rethink their routinized mastery and move, within the game and within themselves, to a new level. . . . Sadly in school, many so-called advantaged learners rarely get to operate at the edge of their regime of competence as they coast along in a curriculum that makes few real demands on them. At the same time, less advantaged learners are repeatedly asked to operate outside their regime of competence.


Abstract concepts in languages are based in embodied metaphors.

(72) Studies of human languages are one source of rich evidence that human thinking is deeply rooted in embodied experience of the world. In all human languages abstract notions are encoded in words and phrases that constitute metaphors based on concrete, embodied experience of a material world.
(72) The argument is that just as language builds abstractions on the basis of concrete images from embodied experience of a material world, so, too, does human learning and thinking. One good way to make people look stupid is to ask them to learn and think in terms of words and abstractions that they cannot connect in any useful way or images or situations in their embodied experiences in the world. Unfortunately, we regularly do this in schools.



(79) The story line in a video game is a mixture of four things.
(79) Thus, in video games like Deus Ex, stories are embodied in the player's own choices and actions in a way they cannot be in books and movies.

Bring in criticism by Ryan of video game stories for more nuanced discussion of emotional investments.

(80) The emotional investments you have in a video-game story are different from the emotional investments you have in a book or movie.
(80) Video games compensate for these limitations by creating what I have called embodied stories, stories that involve and motivate the player in a different way than do the stories in books and movies.

(81) Video games are particularly good examples of how learning and thinking work in any semiotic domain when then are powerful and effective, not passive and inert.
(84) There really is
no other way to make sense. If all you know—in any domain—are general meanings, then you really don't know anything that makes sense to you.
(85) The science educator Andrea
diSessa has successfully taught children in sixth grade and beyond the algebra behind Galileo's principles of motion (principles related to Newton's laws) by teaching them a specific computer programming language called Boxer.

Learning algebra by programming simulations of Galileo principles: if only it was a basic skill, this approach would be the norm rather than the exceptional case of active, potentially critical learning, in what become, for the person working code, embodied stories, exercising the probe, hypothesize, reprobe, rethink expert reflective cycle.

(86) In this process, the student, with the guidance of a good teacher, can discover a good deal about Galileo's principles of motion through his or her actions in writing the program, watching what happens, and changing the program.
(87) Once learners have experienced the meanings of Galileo's principles about motion in a situated and embodied way, they understand one of the situated meanings for the algebraic equations that capture these principles at a more abstract level.
(87) Abstraction arises gradually out of the ground of situated meaning and practice and returns there from time to time, or it is meaningless to most human beings.

(88) Some consider this four-step process to be the basis of expert reflective practice in any complex semiotic domain. But it is also how children learn, even very young children, when they are not learning in school. It is how children initially build their minds and learn their cultures.
(89) This forming of associations [pattern recognition] is crucial not just to the development of the child's mind. It also constitutes aspects of the child's emerging identity as a cultured being of a certain sort connected to a certain sort of family, social group, and community.

Value of books for embodied learning as social artifact and reading practice.

(90) Since the initial patterns we form in life are a basis on which we form all the rest of our later patterns (because they determine the hypotheses we originally make and revise, setting a certain trajectory to our mental development), children like this have links between the real world and books as a foundational part of who they are in mind, body, and culture.

Mental action based on stored images and simulations of experience instead of applying generalizations to facts affirms limit of books.

(91) In the traditional view, the mind thinks through stored “facts” and grand generalizations that are like statements in logic (like “All books have covers”). In the view I am developing here, the mind thinks and acts on the basis of something like stored images (simulations) of experience, images that are complexly interlinked with each other (thereby attaining some generality) but that are always adapted to new experiences in ways that keep them tied to the ground of embodied experience and action in the world.

(93) Children can determine what they “like,” what is a “good” result, only in terms of an
appreciative system, that is, their set of goals, desires, feelings, and values in respect to the domain being engaged in.
(93-94) Nonetheless, the affinity group connected to the semiotic domain being learned determines what counts as an “acceptable” and “recognizable” and “competent” appreciative system in the domain and what does not.
(94) In critical learning, the learner comes not just to form an appreciative system through practice and interaction with the affinity group associated with the domain but to reflect overtly on the goals, values, feelings, and desires that compose this system, to compare and contrast this appreciative system to others, and to make active and critical choices about the system.
(96) My appreciative system is tied in an important way to knowledge about and perspectives on shooter games as
designed entities having their own sort of “design grammar.” It is a “language” I am beginning to think and speak, even to think and speak creatively in the sense that I can critique such games and imagine new and different ones. In the end, then, while I don't have the skills to build a game, I think a good deal, while playing (reflection in action) and afterward (reflection on action), about what new and better games “ought to” look like.

Becoming designers is the common outcome of all active, critical learning, ecognizing that few will become game producers, but can participate in community discourse about game evaluation and design, which reveals the great quantity of written texts associated with video games.

(96) It is my contention that active, critical learning in any domain should lead to learners becoming, in a sense, designers.

(97) They are surrounded by a great many written texts.
(97) These texts are all integrated into the appreciative systems associated with the affinity groups connected to video games.
(99) However, at some point these texts also originally make sense because the student has an embodied world of experience (in reality, or at least, simulated in his or her mind) in terms of which to situate and spell out their meanings.
(103) Academic language, like the language in the
Deus Ex booklet, is not really lucid or meaningful if one has no embodied experiences within which to situate its meanings in specific ways.

Situated versus verbal meanings.

(105) In the end, my claim is that people have situated meanings for words when they can associate these words with images, actions, experiences, or dialogue in a real or imagined world. Otherwise they have, at best, only verbal meanings (words for words, as in a dictionary). Situated meanings lead to real understanding and the ability to apply what one knows in action. Verbal meanings do not (thought they do sometimes lead to the ability to pass paper and pencil tests). This is why so many school children, even ones who are good at school, can pass tests but still cannot apply their knowledge to real problem solving.


Learning principles at end of chapter 4: probing, multiple routes, situated meaning, text, intertextual, multimodal, material intelligence, intuitive knowledge.

(106) Now they are “cashing out” texts not just in terms of embodied action in the games they have played (they are most certainly doing that as well) but also in terms of other texts they have read in the family or genre.
(106) The “material intelligence” principle is really a subpart of the multimodal principle.
(108) There is real intelligence built into geometry and diSessa's Boxer program, as there is intelligence (knowledge, guidance) built into the objects and environments in
American McGee's Alice, SWAT4, or Half-Life 2.
(108) Finally, the intuitive (tacit) knowledge principle is concerned with the fact that video games honor not just the explicit and verbal knowledge players have about how to play but also the intuitive or tacit knowledge—built into their movements, bodies, and unconscious ways of thinking—they have built up through repeated practice with a family or genre of games.


(117) Players are placed, by the very design of the game, in the same psychological space as Lara—learning from Von Croy but not subordinating themselves entirely to his old-fashioned professorial need for dominance.
(117) In such video games, players get practice in trying out new identities that challenge some of their assumptions about themselves and the world. A good science class should do the same.


Gee gives an exemplary example of strange new ways in which texts and technology operate, acknowledging the artificial unit operations of the virtual world as the most expedient way to communicate through them: a character in a virtual reality instructing the embodied player in the control function of bodily manipulations to machine operations, whether keyboarding, mouse movements, touch screens, speech recognition, interfaces along the temporal electromagnetic spectra within the envelope of feasibilty, raising question whether the knowledge function of this otherwise out of place speech the flip side of Cayley transliteral morphs? Thus, there are few examples of algorithms controlling things like switch matrices, loudspeakers, and graphic displays than rhetorically relevant narratives for controlling humans.

(118) Von Croy says, “The first obstacle, a small hop to test your—how do yo say—pluck. Press and hold walk, how push forward.”
(118) Thus, Von Croy's remark perfectly melds and integrates talk to Lara and talk to the player. This melding is part of what marries the player's real-world identity as a player and his or her virtual identity as Lara.
(119) By the end of the episode, the player has both finished the first episode of the game and learned how to operate the basic controls.

(121) Such language is one of many devices in a good video game that encourages the player to relate, juxtapose, and meld his or her real world identity (actually, multiple real-world identities) and the virtual identity of the character he or she is playing in the virtual world of the game. Such a process also encourages the player to adopt what I called in chapter 3 a projective identity.

(123) Learning is not started in a separate place (e.g., a classroom or textbook) outside the domain in which the learning is going to operate.

(126) Getting transfer to happen typically requires making the learners aware of how two different problems or domains share certain properties at a deeper level. That is, it requires thinking at a design level.
(127) This is a key moment for active and potentially critical learning. It is the place where previous experience is, at one and the same time, recruited and transformed, giving rise to newer experiences that can be used and transformed in the future.


(136) In essence, a game manual has been spread throughout the early episodes of the game, giving information when it can be best understood and practiced through situated experience.

Garden-path danger in unguided exploratory play learning the principle criticism of Papert; concentrated sample is better approach for bottom up learning.

(137-138) Too often in school—especially in progressive pedagogies that stress immersing children in rich activities without teacher guidance—children confront cases early in their learning that are not very helpful. . . . Such complex cases, thanks to the fact that all children are powerful pattern recognizers, often lead children to hit on interesting patterns and generalizations that are, in fact, “garden paths.” . . . Such garden-path patterns and generalizations are not fruitful for the future, however interesting and even intelligent they are for the present.
(139) Good video games do more than order the situations and problems the player faces in an intelligent way. They also offer the player, in the early episodes, what I call a concentrated sample. By this I mean that they concentrate in the early parts of the game an ample number of the most fundamental or basic artifacts, skills, and tools the player needs to learn.


Learning principles at end of chapter 5: subset, incremental, concentrated sample, bottom-up basic skills, explicit information on-demand and just-in-time, discovery, transfer.


Subjectivity manipulation and exploration of cultural models by video game content and perspectives has great potential, as Hayles, Manovich, and Murray argue as well.

(146) This chapter is about the ways in which content in video games either reinforces or challenges players' taken-for-granted perspectives on the world. This is an area where the future potential of video games is perhaps even more significant than their current instantiations.

(147) Players can play
Sonic Adventure 2 Battle in two different ways. They can be “good” and play as the blue Sonic, or they can be “bad” and play as Sonic's look-alike, Shadow.
(148) It would be absolutely pointless to play as Shadow but purposely lose battles because you disapprove of his value system.
(149) Cultural models are not true or false. Rather, they capture, and are meant to capture, only a partial view of reality, one that helps groups (and humans in general) go about their daily work without a great deal of preplanning and conscious thought.
(152) They are not just in your head. Of course, you store images and patterns in your head that represent cultural models, but they are also represented out there in the world.

Paralysis without cultural models makes sense of difficulty navigating alien environments.

(153) Cultural models are the tacit, taken-for-granted theories we (usually unconsciously) infer and then act on in the normal course of events when we want to be like others in our social groups. People who have no cultural models would have to think everything out for themselves minute by minute when they attempt to act. They would be paralyzed.

Avoiding harm and replacing violence with conversation are cultural models itself Gee favors, like the apparent senselessness of playing to lose in Under Ash.

(154) Certain circumstances can, however, force us to think overtly and reflectively about our cultural models. We certainly don't want or need to think overtly about all of them. But we do need to think about those that, in certain situations or at certain points in our lives, have the potential to do more harm than good.

(155) After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a number of video games came out, initially on the Internet and thereafter as packaged games, featuring U.S. soldiers killing Arabs and Muslims. These games, for obvious reasons, were not at all palatable to Arab children. In response,the Syrian publishing house Dar Al-Fikr designed a video game called
Under Ash (other similar games have followed, made by several different companies). Its hero is a young Palestinian named Ahmed who throws stones to fight Israeli soldiers and settlers. The game, of course, involves the player deeply in the Palestinian cause and Palestinian perspectives.
(158-159) Video games have an unmet potential to create complexity by letting people experience the world from different perspectives. . . . This making sense of the virtual world amid not just thought but also action in the world amounts to experiencing new and different cultural models.
(160) Eventually this capacity will be used to allow people to live and interact in worlds where violence plays no role and is replaced by conversation and other sorts of social interactions.

(162) But none of this prepares you for a game like
Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, a realistic military game that quickly disabused me of all the cultural models about warfare I had picked up from books and movies. Its contrast to games like Return to Castle Wolfenstein is so stark that a player cannot help but be confronted consciously with the cultural models heroic shooter games reinforce.
(163) Playing
Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis let me experience what it would be like to have quite different cultural models about warfare.

(169) In the high school physics class, the cultural models of some students were in conflict with the scientific models used by physicists.
(169) A number of studies in science education have found that students often bring to the physics classroom, in one form or another, a conception that
motion is caused by force.
(170) The model that says, “things keep working because they are continually supplied with some form of power or agency” is deeply rooted in our physical and social experiences.

Focus is on generative learning versus competitive, linear learning; example of conflicting cultural model of motion in physics hints at recent plea by Bill Noye that parents not allow their children to be heavily imprinted with creationism because it will hinder their ability to function in a world that takes evolution for granted; perhaps the concern is also with cultural models about learning skewed away from the sciences model.

(171) However, students also bring to classrooms cultural models about school subject matter (e.g., what “physics” as a school subject is) and about learning (e.g., what learning is or should be like in school).

(171) In fact, good video games expose a whole set of generational models of what constitutes typical ways of learning.
(173) These models all get entrenched in school repeatedly. They are linear models that stress movement ever forward toward greater skill until one has mastered one's goal. They are competitive models, as well, that stress better and worse and sorting people into categories along the lines of better and worse.
(174) Video games tend not to reward these models.
(175-176) Wouldn't it be great if we could say to children in school, when they were struggling mightily with hard problems: “Aren't you lucky you have the time and opportunity to learn?” and have them smile and nod?


Learning principles at end of chapter 6: cultural models about the world, cultural models about learning, cultural models about semiotic domains.

(181) Your race, gender, class, and religion will decide how people deal with you in the
EverQuest world. . . . Your guild membership may also affect how other people react to you in the game.
(188) So learning here is social, distributed, and part and parcel of a network composed of interconnected people, tools, technologies, and companies. Adrian is a node in such a network, and much of his knowledge and skill flows from this connection. Yet schools still isolate children from such powerful networks—for example, a network built around some branch of science—and test and assess them as isolated individuals, apart from other people and apart from tools and technologies that they could leverage to powerful ends.


(192) If the human mind is a powerful pattern recognizer—and the evidence very much suggests it is—then what is most important about thinking is not what it is “mental,” something happening inside our heads, but rather that it is
social, something attunded to and normed by the social groups to which we belong or seek to belong.
(194) If a member deviates too far from the patterns and ways of filling them out in the field that the [bird watching] club, as a social group, considers normative, then the club “punishes” the member in order to bring him or her back in line.

Notion of ideal as attractor rather than actual belief the basis of Zizek complex analysis of the reality of the virtual.

(194) This ideal might actually not be what is in anyone's head. The ideal is an “attractor,” an ideal toward which individuals in the club gravitate and toward which the social practices (the “policing”) of the club pushes them when they get too far away from it.

(196-197) In school we test people apart from their thinking tools, which include other people as well as texts and various sorts of tools and technologies. We want to know what they can do all by themselves. But in the modern world—and this is certainly true of many modern high-tech workplaces—it is equally or more important to know what people can think and do with others and with various tools and technologies.

Tie in Spinuzzi, Castells, Clark and Chalmers, Hayles to distributed knowledge and social cognition as new model of subjectivity.

(197) The really important knowledge is in the network—that is, in the people, their texts, tools, and technologies, and, crucially the ways in which they are interconnected—not in any one “node” (person, text, tool, or technology), but in the network as a whole.


Learning is change in identity as well as practice (Lave); Brown and Campione reciprocal teaching, jigsaw method strategies for targeting Vygotsky zone of proximal development.

(203) Jean Lave, a leading theorist of socially situated cognition, has developed a view of learning that fits well with all I have said here. She argues that learning is not best judged by a change in minds (the traditional school measure), but by “changing participation in changing practices.” She further argues that learning is not just a change in practice, but in identity, as well.
(203) In education, Lave's views on learning were well exemplifed in the classrooms (called “communities of learners”) designed by Ann Brown and Joseph Campione, two leading educational cognitive scientists.
(204) In reciprocal teaching, the teacher and a group of students take turns leading a discussion about a reading passage.
(204) In the
jigsaw method of cooperative learning, students are assigned a subpart of a classroom topic to learn and subsequently teach to others via reciprocal teaching.
(205) Brown and Campione borrowed from the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky the concept of a “
zone of proximal development.” . . . The core idea is that novices, largely unconsciously, “internalize” or accommodate to the goals, values, and understandings of those more expert then themselves through scaffolded joint activity with those others and their associated tools and technologies.

Enumerates six features of affinity groups or communities of practice: common endeavor, organized around whole process, extensive knowledge, intensive knowledge, tact distributed disperse knowledge, leaders design and resource groups.

(205) Brown and Campione's classrooms and many modern workplaces constitute what some have called “communities of practiceand what I have called affinity groups.
(207) What happened, in my view, is that policymakers began to see that the “new capitalism” was not going to make every worker a “knowledge worker,” as had previously been thought. Rather, the new global high-tech economy called for lots of service workers in addition to lots of knowledge workers. The service workers needed good communication skills and a willingness to be cooperative and pliant but often did not need much sophisticated technical or specialist knowledge.

(208) Good video games allow players to be not just passive consumers but also active producers who can customize their own learning experiences.

Policy maker incentive to produce knowledge workers replaced with service workers; little wonder superior learning opportunities discoverable in playing video games.

(211) Do 12-year-olds engage in this sort of producer, designer talk, connected to a growing appreciative system in their science classrooms? If not—and chances are great in today's test and drill-and-skill schools that they do not in many cases—then they are experiencing a much more powerful view of learning when they are playing video games, an enterprise that many in our culture think is a “waste of time,” than they are in school.


Learning principles at end of chapter 7: distributed, dispersed, affinity group, insider.


(215) I have first wanted to argue that good video games build into their very designs good learning principles and that we should use these principles, with or without games, in schools, workplaces, and other learning sites. Second, I have wanted to argue that when young people are interacting with video games—and other popular cultural practices—they are learning, and learning in deep ways. . . . We need to make them full and productive partners in how we design any enterprise in which we use games for learning.
(216) They make players think like scientists. Game play is built on a cycle of “hypothesize, probe the world, get a reaction, reflect on the results, reprobe to get getter results,” a cycle typical of experimental science.
(217) Research has shown that when learners are left free in a problem space, they often hit on creative solutions to complex problems, but solutions that don't lead to good hypotheses for later, even easier problems. In good video games, problems are well ordered so that earlier ones lead to hypotheses that work well for later, harder problems.
(217) Good games stay within, but at the outer edge, of the player's “regime of competence.” That is, they feel “doable” but challenging. This makes them pleasantly frustrating—a flow state for human beings.
(217-218) Games recruit smart tools, distributed knowledge, and cross-functional teams just like modern high-tech workplaces. . . . Thus, the core knowledge needed to play video games is distributed among a set of real people and their smart tools, much as in a modern science lab or high tech workplace.
(218) Video games operate by a principle of performance before competence.
(218) Games always situate (“show”) the meanings of words and show how they vary across different actions, images and dialogues. They don't just offer words for words (“definitions”).
(218) What will young people come to think if they consistently see deeper learning principles in their popular culture than they do in school?

Gee, James Paul. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Second Edition: Revised and Updated Edition. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.