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Games for Learning

Stephen Downes, March 15,

James Paul Gee , author of "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy", treated those of us at the RIMA ICEM conference in Quebec City today to a lucid and convincing argument illustrating how today's computer games embody better learning than most schools.

Video games, he noted, are long, complex and hard - and yet people spent many hours playing them, involving themselves in complex learning, and even pay for the privilege. The task accomplished by game designers, he observed wryly, "would be like charging fifty dollars to learn algebra.

One might think that the way to make games easier to learn would be to make them simpler, but game designers have learned that while games need to be easy to learn, gamers demand that the games themselves be difficult. So through a process of evolution, designers have incorporated strong pedagogy into games, which can be discovered through a process of reverse engineering.

Human minds and video games, said Gee, work in much the same way. While at one time we thought that the human mind functions like a big inference engine, manipulating symbols and rules, the prevailing view today is that humans do not follow rules. Rather, what they do is act on experiences, essentially constructing simulations in their mind.

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