Are Games the Right Tools to Survive the 21st Century? – A response to scholarly text

In my pursuit of further education I am enrolled in a course on games and learning. Part of the expectations for this course is to take ownership of my learning and explore the connections between games and learning for myself.

To begin this self-education process I wanted to find a periodical that gave me a broad perspective of the topic and that provided some direction to follow to continue my research. I settled on James Paul Gee’s article Games, Learning, and 21st Century Survival Skills, having read two chapters form Gee’s book Situated Language and Learning for my course, I viewed Gee as an expert and was drawn to the article’s expert voice. I also feel the  article was written with an air of authority which could reflects Gee’s status as a respected contributor in this field. The articles’s clams are supported with a mixture of first person anecdotal evidence and more traditional research through cited works, this creates a casual infotainment tone for the article, similar to what I experience watching a TED talk. Informal but with authority.  Gee’s article is in the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research and I believe he was looking to employ a casual tone in order to give a nod to the expertise of the intended audience and to incorporate sound research principles ensuring his findings are accepted.

Gee’s basic claim is that digital games supported the development of specific skills in players that are essential components of 21st century skills. Gee suggests six skills needed to survive in the 21st century:

  • embodied empathy for complex systems
  • “grit” (passion + persistence)
  • playfulness that leads to innovation
  • design thinking
  • collaborations in which groups are smarter than the smartest person in the group
  • real understanding that leads to problem solving (Gee, 2009, p. 4)

Gee identifies the ways that the unique characteristics and design of digital games provide the opportunity to develop these 21st century skills in a meaningful platform.

Gee’s inclusion of anecdotal descriptions of his experiences playing and mastering games was an effective approach to drawing in the attention of his readers. I have a fairly pedestrian experience as a gamer but I was able to connect with most of the experiences that are shared and accept Gee’s logic. There were some experiences detailed, for example – damage meter mods in WOW, that because of my amateur status I could not make a connection with and was lost on the argument Gee was developing. The strength, however, of this periodical is that the experiences shared are balanced with researched citations, therefor the impact of anecdotes I could not comprehend did not detract form the overall impact of Gee’s message.

Reading Gee’s work has provided multiple directions for me to follow in continuing my self-education, each of his highlighted 21st century skills could be studied further to find more scholarly voices supporting the links between games and specific ways of thinking. I initially feel that the connection between passion + persistence is an area that could make games an ideal tool to get students passionate about their learning. I know from experience that the desire to master a video game can produce a passionate dedication to spending hours with the game, and if harnessed into academic learning that passion and persistence would be a powerful motivator.

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Are Games the Right Tools to Survive the 21st Century? – A response to scholarly text

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