One of the assigned readings for an online education course I am attending is a book titled “Situated Language and Learning” and was written by James Paul Gee (2004). Gee is a faculty affiliate of the Games, Learning, and Society group at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Gee grabbed my attention with the first sentence of his introduction when I learned that he is a linguist. Hope, I had a sense of real hope, as here is a well seasoned professor endeavoring to share his knowledge concerning “games and learning” that certainly ought to be able to clearly communicate. I openly wondered if it could be true, and if my current professor had done me the great service of introducing me to a thinker, who was also a communicator. Might I be treated to prose that was not so filled with jargon and acronyms that I could focus on the concepts, and conventions being shared without feeling like a cryptologist. No I’m not a writer, nor do I endeavor to be one, and therefore openly apologize for my simple prose, and yet I am a voracious reader and can usually recognize the good stuff when I encounter it. And Gee certainly produces the good stuff, and here I’m not only describing his form, but the important ideas and experience that he so graciously shares concerning games and learning theories. Gee (2004) does admit that specialist varieties of language are required in this field, but argues that such language can be learned through game play. I hope he is correct in this argument!
I know little on the subject of “games and learning” and I am not a game player by any stretch of the imagination. I have no favorite game, team, group, tribe, or nation, and don’t enjoy any type of competition. And yet I realize that those normal souls around me not only appreciate games, but seem eager to learn through them. In the 21st century of global communication and technology I believe learning through game playing will become a core practice. Hence, my interest in Gee’s book, as he is deeply concerned with how we will prepare all children for the high-tech global world, as I am.
He argues that the human mind runs simulations of experiences that we have had, and compares this type of thinking to playing a video game. Gee (2004) describes how well designed games are tools that invite the player to learn through these simulations. In chapter 5 Gee discusses learning video games through the use “fish tanks,” the “supervised fish tank,” and the “sandbox tutorial.” These, he says, are methods that designers employ to help newcomers learn their gaming environment, without feeling a sense of urgency. I hope he is correct. As part of this same course, I recently attempted to learn the popular video game Small World, but felt like an overwhelmed monkey and quit playing. I do realize that this “video game” was an adaptation of a conventional board game, and imagine if its original form had been digital, that the tutorials and help screens would have offered a newcomer like me much more guidance. Gee (2004) also describes how chatrooms are one of the positive social aspects of game play, where one can go to learn about playing specific games. I think it’s time I visit one of these spaces dedicated to Small World!