Games & Learning – Summary

Shaffer, D. (2006). How Computer Games Help Children Learn. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Chapter 1

  • Rules define games (and play); the need for authenticity implies that writing the rules is the most difficult aspect of game creation.
  • Some roles make players care about winning; other roles make players care about self-efficacy. Because roles (and thus end-states) differ, rules vary with roles. This role-rule pairing creates the narrative, another difficult task.

Chapter 2
The knowledge gained in the game persists because it’s tied to a particular epistemology. Computers don’t simply store symbols, but also process them and thus will lead to a virtual culture based on symbol processing.

Chapter 3
All games are microworlds, and players come to those microworlds with a set of beliefs, make decisions based on those beliefs, and receive responses from the simulation which bring those beliefs to the surface, challenge them, and then refine the beliefs.

Knowing how (procedural knowledge) is what games teach; knowing what (declarative knowledge) is what books teach. The practicum process involves:

  • doing things as a professional (action)
  • discussing what happened with the community (reflection on action)
  • repeating this iterative cycle until the process is internalized (reflection in action

Chapter 4
Games must impose obstacles that are neither too easy (boring) nor too hard (frustrating) to create a condition of flow; levels should be barely achievable. For players to even try to overcome obstacles, they must care, and thus games must provide motivation. Making a game fun provides intrinsic motivation. Playing by the rules is fun, and fun offers self-efficacy–players feel they are able to master the game.

Chapter 5
Symbolic knowledge is developed in solving one problem can be used to solve other analogous problems. Schematic knowledge involves combining facts (declarative) and problem-solving strategies (procedural) knowledge to solve problems. Situated cognition, however, views all activity as part of a community of practice where newcomers learn through legitimate peripheral perception.

For the value of games to extend beyond the game itself, epistemic frames (which exist partly in the mind of the players and partly in the structure of the game) provide the “grammar” of the local culture of a community of practice. These frames are a level of description between and across the symbolic, schema and community views of learning.

Simulations and games are related but distinct:

  • simulations do not have epistemic frames
  • all games are based on simulations
  • games create a virtual world using a simulation
  • epistemic games create the epistemic frame of a community by recreating the process by which individuals develop that community

Chapter 6
Designing epistemic games is challenging:

  • games are built on simulations which are simplified (thus distorted) views of the world
  • simulations without a community of practice and without the opportunity for reflection and feedback offer no real context
  • professions are built on practices which are evolved rather than designed; these professional practices do not offer “general principles of learning that can be used anywhere” but instead provide markers
  • “learning takes place only as part of a coherent system” and thus we will fail if we merely extract professional practices (or game elements) and drop them into existing curricula
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