A Theoretical Background for Educational Video Games: Games, Signs, Knowledge

A Theoretical Background for Educational Video Games: Games, Signs, Knowledge

Nicolas Szilas (TECFA, FPSE, University of Geneva, Switzerland) and Martin Acosta (Escuela de Matematicas, Universidad Industrial de Santander, Bucaramanga, Colombia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-495-0.ch011
OnDemand PDF Download:
List Price: $37.50


This theory is then put into practice by analyzing three commercial educational games. It constitutes a first step towards Instructional Game Design.
Chapter Preview


The potential of video games for learning is now widely accepted among the community of Educational Technology (Quinn, 1997; Jones, 1998, Amory, 2001; Rieber, 1996; Prensky, 2001; Gee, 2003). Contrary to common belief, play and games are not specific to children, but constitute an essential activity for adults too (Huizinga, 1938; Rieber, 1996). Play is not frivolous but can be quite serious (Rieber, 1996). The recent explosion of computer and video games in modern culture makes it even more obvious that games are to be considered as a new medium, with unique properties.

Among the most cited advantages of video games over other instructional technologies are their motivational appeal and their compatibility with modern pedagogy (Kirriemuir & McFarlane, 2004, p. 19).

In terms of motivation, it is argued that games are intrinsically motivating; players are motivated to play regardless of the consequences of the learning activity (Malone & Lepper, 1987; Jones, 1998). This is related to one fundamental characteristic of a game: the fact that it has no perceived utility for the player (Huizinga, 1938). Games are played because they provide a multitude of emotions, such as fear, surprise, pride, relief, etc. and have other motivational aspects such as challenge and fantasy. Given this intrinsic motivation to play, several educational games have been developed, including all the games considered as “edutainment”. While it has been shown that games in certain contexts provide higher levels of motivation of engagement than traditional education (Wishart, 1990 in Hays, 2005), the level of engagement or “gameplay” of these titles seems lower than in pure entertainment games (Hagbood, 2005), as if adding pedagogical constraints to a game diminished the motivation. In other terms, “making learning fun”, as stated by Malone & Lepper (1987) remains a difficult task (Hays, 2005).

In terms of pedagogy, the active nature of games encourages learner-centered pedagogy. As described by Rieber (1996), play is a natural learning strategy for children according to the Piagetian theory; this makes video games suitable for computer-based learning. Game-based learning is usually associated to the situated learning theory (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989), because in many games, especially 3D games, any action has a meaning within a situation in the game (Gee, 2003, p. 84). However, in many educational games, the player's actions are not used to promote situated learning. Indeed, among players' actions, some are dedicated to learning while others are purely for the game play, resulting in a dissociation between game and learning which is contrary to situated learning. This insufficient integration between game and learning is also reported by several research studies (Malone & Lepper, 1987; Kirriemuir & McFarlane, 2004; Habgood, et al., 2005; Szilas & Sutter-Widmer, 2009).

Besides, using existing games for educational purposes is very difficult, since the games were not designed for that purpose. For example, several practical difficulties are reported when using commercial history strategy games to learn history in a classroom environment (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2004; Connoly & Stansfield, 2006).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Winner Strategies: Articulation between game and knowledge in which learning occurs when the game proposes a non didactical system in which knowledge is required reach the game’s goal, and in which this goal cannot be reached without the knowledge.

Contextual Coupling: Articulation between game and knowledge in which knowledge to be learned lies outside the game mechanics.

Instructional Game Design (IGD): The goal of IGD is to find a methodology making it possible to produce an efficient learning game from any given knowledge domain, if such a game is possible.

Systemic Learning: Articulation between game and knowledge in which knowledge lies in the rules of the game mechanics.

Loose Coupling: Articulation between game and knowledge in which rules that involve the knowledge to be learned are loosely connected to the main rules of the game mechanics.

Game: A game is a dynamical system of signs in which the player acts, independently of any consequence outside the system, in order to reach a goal assigned by the game.

Paradox of Educational Games: Games are played for the sake of playing, regardless of the consequences of the playing activity outside of the game while learning is useful and must be perceived as such in order to be efficient.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: