Revisiting old posts – part two

In this post, I try to create an overview of what I’ve written on my blog in relation to digital media & education. This is the second installment, where I focus specifically on games & learning. See the first installment here

My work remains centered around the relation between games, learning and education (even though I can’t help but stray from that path quite often). My point of departure was quite narrowly concerned with the application of serious games (e.g. Global Conflicts) in school (see my master’s thesis (in Danish) or the English abstract). It’s only been 3-4 years, yet it seems like I’ve covered so much ground since then. I’ve had the immense pleasure of meeting and working with great, inspirational people, and I have been constantly on the move. As stated elsewhere, I sometimes feel a bit like Bilbo, writing and being present in so many different contexts. During the last couple of years I have, however, been trying to make this the central hub of my work, and thus I have collected here some posts on games & learning.

Games & learning

When revisiting my writing on games, learning and education, some patterns and reappearing topics are identifiable:

  • Introductions
  • Games & entrepreneurship
  • Projects & conferences
  • Perceptions of games
  • Barriers to games in education

As with the previous post, these are only analytical constructs; containers for a number of posts, but containers which overlap in many ways.

All links in this post are internal (except when stated otherwise).


Despite the increasing attention, the growing interest and the enormous amount of work being done within the field of “games and learning”, we’re still very much in the middle of defining what we mean, when we talk about “games and learning”. I, for one, often gets confused and loses my bearings, because we lack a common vocabulary, a common frame of reference.

As a consequence, I frequently try to define what I’m talking about, drawing borders; basically, I’m chasing a moving target.

As one of my first posts, I asked “what is game based learning?“. I try to find out, what it is, that games do; they “offer a situated practice, where we as players must acquire the skills, knowledge and competencies needed to beat the game, thus echoing John Dewey’s mantra, learning by doing”. At the time, I reached upon this definition: “Game based learning describes an approach to teaching, where students explore relevant aspect of games in a learning context designed by teachers. Teachers and students collaborate in order to add depth and perspective to the experience of playing the game.”

Two approaches to games in educationIn my view, game based learning may be only one of several uses of games in education, and I thus tried to describe “my take on games in education” in a larger perspective. In short, it’s about either using games as learning tools in order to support learning in any possible subject area (e.g. maths, social science, language etc.) or working with games as cultural phenomena, which we must understand.

Building on the former post, I wrote a more elaborate “intro to game based learning“, which represented a draft chapter for the handbook in the GAMEiT Project. Among other things, I distinguish between four different approaches to game based learning:

  • Dedicated learning games
  • Commercial entertainment titles
  • Game-like scenarios
  • Developing games

By the Power of Greyskull” (or merely the internet) it becomes possible, if you are “new to games & learning“, to listen to “the worlds’ finest experts across research and practice”, and I always recommend that. Therefore, I tried to collect in this post a number of very important speakers, who all have valuable insight on games and learning.

Games & entrepreneurship

One particular area, in which I’m increasingly interested, is the relationship between developing games, learning and entrepreneurship. This is way outside my initial line of sight, yet it has proven to resonate with the principles of good games. When David Williamson Shaffer is talking about “epistemic games”, he could thus be talking about games about game development:

David Williamson ShafferEpistemic games are games that let players learn to work and, thus, to think as innovative professionals. Epistemic games are games that let students develop the epistemic frames of innovation. Epistemic games are fun, but they are fun because they are about innovation and mastery of complex domains. Epistemic games are about knowledge, but they are about knowledge in action—about making knowledge, applying knowledge, and sharing knowledge. Epistemic games are rigorous, motivating, and complex because that’s what characterizes the practices of innovation upon which they are modeled.

For the GAMEiT Handbook (an outcome of the GAMEiT Project), I wrote a chapter introducing some of the ideas behind “learning by producing“. Springing from the work at GameIT College, I describe how students develop games and how they, by doing so, start working and thinking a lot more like entrepeneurs.

Talking about entrepreneurs, I urge everybody to “embrace the initiative“. Inside as well as outside education, we need students, people, citizens, who are able to take the initiative and make things happen. Oh, and I also talk about the inherent importance of failure. We need to be willing to fail more often.

Describing a very recent project at GameIT College, I wrote about “games for medical students“, where the GameIT students are “making games for medical students. The games were primarily supposed to be concerned with supporting reflection and decision-making in regard to law and ethics in the field of organ donation”. Highly exciting stuff.

Projects & conferences

This is a somewhat inane and broad category, but bear with me.

GAMEiT Partner MeetingOne of the projects, which have occupied a fair chunk of my time the last couple of years, is the GAMEiT Project, where we have been “exploring game based learning“. “We aim to identify, collect, test and distribute good practice in game based learning. Our project will result in a framework of game based learning pedagogy.”

As the project is coming to an end, we did a conference, which I described in a “GAMEiT Conference – post mortem“, where I sum up the conference, and talk a little about our GAMEiT handbook. At the conference, we ended up talking mostly about the “learning by producing”-approach to games, as almost every speaker touched upon this in one way or another. We also, however, had a chance to reflect upon the capability of games to make us reflect upon the world; exciting meta-stuff.

I keep attending as many relevant conferences as possible, as I always walk away with more than I brought upon arrival. Even though most often I’m not confronted with radically new knowledge, I get to hear what other people in the field are doing, and – most important, probably – I get to talk to people more passionate and insightful than myself. I love that almost more than anything.

IMAGINE (Increasing Mainstreaming of Games In Learning Policies)

Last summer I went to Prague with the very inspiring Ella Myhring, and I wrote about my “impressions from Prague“. We were invited to participate in a workshop in the IMAGINE (Increasing Mainstreaming of Games In Learning Policies), and we each did a talk. I took note of a couple of things in particular. First off, a year ago we were all confused about what the actual meaning of game based learning. We still are. Secondly, some participants argued for the use of small and simple games in order to lower the effort needed to include those games in education. I’m not opposed to “small and simple” per se, but I’m opposed to the idea that we should only consider that type of games out of a misunderstood intention to make things easy. Education is and should not be easy. Games are many things, and we should certainly also include the big, complex and – perhaps – intimidating ones.

Last fall, the European Conference on Games Based Learning (ECGBL) was in Copenhagen (right now it’s in Athens), and I wrote a post appropriately titled “ECGBL“. Despite me not being a researcher in the formal “I’m-at-a-university-doing-research” way, I’m tremendously interested in the field. Three topics were central to me throughout the conference; 1. the idea of using the study of games (usually labelled “game studies”, appropriately) and their understanding of games as our foundation for game based learning, 2. the idea that assumptions regarding games and game based learning must be constantly challenged, e.g. the notion that games automatically foster motivation, and 3. the idea that games should not be directly integrated into exisiting teaching practice, as they should be used to leverage new was of teaching.

Perceptions of games

One thing that always strikes me, when working with games, is the multitude of perceptions.

People think all kinds of different things, when thinking about games.

One discourse, which have been hampering the use of games for anything than entertainment, is the rather crude idea, that games make players more violent. Trying to be just a little provocative, I wrote a post on how “I kill people“, in which I tried to shed some light on the actual research in the field of video games and violence. The conclusion? “We are nowhere near any final conclusions”.

In continuation of this, I’ve been discussing if “games can get too close?“. Time and time again, we see discussions about whether or not games should be allowed to tackle contemporary issues like terrorism and war. “Books, songs, television and movies have been depicting painful events for years on end, and they all caused quite a commotion; at least in the beginning. Why are games not allowed to follow suit?”

I’ve also been looking at “games as arguments” in an attempt to explore, how games can be used as media to promote ideas or arguments. “Could a game persuade you? To think differently? To vote differently? To change your perspective on the world? To buy another brand of milk?”.

Do you want to buy this red tractor?

There’s a widespread perception, that games are not real; or, to elaborate, what takes place in games is not real. The rapid growth of “virtual consumption” radically challenges this notion, because what are you buying, if what you’re buying doesn’t exist? I argue, that “virtual goods ARE real!“, quoting the Finnish researcher, Vili Lehdonvirta, that  “people buy virtual goods for the very same reasons as they buy other goods”. Among other things, this is important because we have to address the notion of “consumer competence” in education.

Barriers to games in education

Many people seem to think, that the barriers to applying games as educational tools are too many and too hard to overcome, and that it really isn’t worth the effort.

It should be obvious by now, that I passionately disagree.

Even so, it’s very important to identify the barriers in order to address them in our continous effort to increase the understanding and use of games in education. (I haven’t explored this in appropriate depth here, but take a look at Simon Egenfeldt’s “The Challenges to Diffusion of Educational Computer Games” for a research based introduction).

When I am (frequently) asked, what it is, that I do – I say, that I build bridges. That I am “bridging gaps“. This is because, I see the many gaps between game developers, researchers, politicians and practitioners as one of the major reasons for game based learning not being much more advanced and widespread by now. We should share knowledge much more vehemently, and facilitate dialogue both with stakeholders inside as well as outside education.

Another barrier is linked to the “time to play“. This refers to the very real issue of the actual time it takes to play games. Many games are big, complex and long, and requires the player to dedicate massive amounts of time. This is hard, but we still need to consider the playing of games an essential part of “understanding games”. “We need to be serious about playing games; even when it’s just for the sake of having fun. Could we imagine a situation, where we only talked about books without ever reading one? Where our common frame of reference was primarily built on some vague preconception rather than first-hand knowledge about concrete books? Where the suggestion of actually reading a book was above all received with scepticism and a disoriented laughter?”

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