This chapter examines the potential of video games as a learning tool given their productive capacity for content creation and dissemination. Based on the findings from a longitudinal, twoyear design-based research study investigating the potential of learning communities constructed around using Civilization III (a turn-based historical simulation-strategy game), the chapter argues that historical model construction is a compelling way to mediate one’s understandings about history. Participants in this game- based learning program developed new identities as producers as well as consumers of historical simulations. Two distinct trajectories of expertise were found to be emerging: one that developed around expert, systemic gaming (orienting toward the experience as a game system), and another that we call historical gaming, orienting to the game experience as a form of “replaying history.” Both forms have value, emphasizing different aspects of the game system. We believe that a community tying these two forms of gaming together (and other ones, as they emerge) is key for building robust learning environments.
Recent years have witnessed unforeseen leaps in technology, which many have argued are ushering in a new media paradigm (Galarneau, 2005). Video games are an excellent site to examine in order to understand this new medium, because games are natively digital. Video games are emblematic of the current popular culture we live in that has a distinctive zeitgeist. Examining games, we see three overriding themes that demarcate the modern media landscape:
Video games are built around logic of simulation: One that is about possible worlds, rather than inspiring oratory, coherent linear arguments, or purely visual imagery. Games are worlds we explore, and learn within, through interaction and performance.
Video games are participatory: Players have the opportunity to shape the medium itself through: (a) production within game worlds (many of which are filmed and published on the Internet), (b) production with game tools (such as modding), and (c) gaining membership in affinity groups, such as gaming clans, guilds, clubs, and so on, to support one’s gaming.
Video games provide an aesthetic experience: Video games offer us opportunities to do new things and take on identities that are unavailable in the real world. As Galarneau (2005) writes, their potential impact in education may be best thought of as producing transformative experience.
A mature theory of game-based learning, we argue, will take into account the underlying principles by which they work as learning environments “naturalistically,” or “in the wild,” to borrow Hutchins’ (1995) term. Modern video games, with their myriad of toolkits for modding and interface editing, have increasingly evolved from being compelling mediums that merely engage users passively, into spaces (and communities) that empower users to willfully create and disseminate content (Jenkins & Squire 2003; Steinkuehler & Johnson, this volume). As such, video games are not only a pervasive popular culture media, but also form some of the central discourses around 21st century pedagogical practices and what it means to teach or learn in a globalized future. The growing body of literature around video games and learning suggests that games are powerful models for teaching and can potentially affect how people can and ought to learn in the ever-changing landscape of knowledge (Shaffer & Gee, 2006). A key challenge that remains for educators is how to produce pedagogical models that leverage the strengths of the medium, yet meet educationally valued goals. Restated, we know that players learn through participation in MMOs such as World of Warcraft (Steinkuehler, 2005, Nardi, Ly, & Harris, forthcoming; Galarneau & Zibit 2006), and that educational interventions that use game technologies (such as networked 3D worlds) can be effective. But how might we harness the simulation, participatory, and aesthetic dimensions of games for intentional learning?
Key Terms in this Chapter
Scenario: A scenario in Civilization III is a depiction of events or an era (that can be either as hypothetical or historically accurate as one wishes it to be), spanning the scale of time.
Sandboxes: Spaces designed in and outside of video games that allow room for experimentation without much serious consequence (see Gee, 2003).
Civilization III: A turn-based history strategy game in which players lead a civilization making choices about how to use land resources, where to invest resources, what kinds of infrastructure to build, and how to manage one’s military.
CivEdit: A game editing toolkit that comes with the game. Players can create historical scenarios, can modify game rules, or define new ones using this editor
Historical Simulation: Historical models that depict a certain time period in history with some reasonable amount of historical accuracy and relevance.
Simulations: Offer useful simplifications of complex situations and are often “imperfect replica” of the real. Video games are increasingly becoming powerful tools for creating simulations. Civ3 is one such example that helps create and play through historical simulations.
Mod (Modding): Short for modifications made in a game. Mods can either be add-ons or tools that can work as additional interfaces for a game, or new graphics and content for the game. In Civilization III, players can mod scenarios, for example, a player can build the Rise of Rome scenario.