Exam question 1

1)  Discuss the benefits and controversies related to using games for learning. Identify and describe what you see as three primary benefits of games (e.g. experience problem solving, communicating and collaborating with others, etc.).  Also, describe and respond to three controversies about games (e.g. violence, antisocial behavior, etc.).  Ground each of these discussions in relevant theoretical, research, and media literature.

The benefits and drawbacks to digital games are actually two sides of the same coin.  Or, in this case since I’ll be listing three of each, all sides of the same 6-sided die.  The first benefit games represent is the fact that games are social activities and are subsumed by a larger gaming culture where players learn social skills and collaborate on meaning-making.  A second benefit is that games let players role-play certain identities while playing.  By doing so, players experience different ways of being and could learn, for example, what it means to be a scientist.  The third benefit is that games engage players like no other medium and that this comes from the very definition of “game.”
Digital games mean different things to different people.  If we believe everything we read, games offer the greatest potential to engage learners of all ages (Prensky, 2001).  At the same time, games present the most alarming cause of gun violence, misogyny, and antisocial behavior (Wikipedia, 2007).  A close examination of the reasons behind this huge disparity in how games are viewed exposes misconceptions about games held by both proponents and detractors of digital games.  First, popular culture generalizes in a way that suggests the whole myriad of games and game genres can be understood as a single entity.  Secondly, some research studies and conclusions are framed on a simplistic view of games limited to player-game interactions.  These are problematic in that they over-simplify the meaning behind engaging in gaming practice, as if players exist in a lab (or dark basement) until they happen upon the outside world to either transfer their new-gained knowledge or shoot someone.  Of the three controversies related to games I will discuss, two of them—violence and addiction—stem from these simplistic conceptions of the player-game relationship, limiting games to merely entertainment products.  The third controversy, related to the culture around games, is the most sinister in that it is subtle and more difficult to recognize.  Gaming culture may be considered a reflection of a dominant, oppressive culture (Freire, 1970/2000) that propagates gender inequalities and marginalizes minority voices (Galarneau & Chen, in print).

I will first define digital games and problematize the way in which games have traditionally been categorized in general culture and for research.  Many of the contradictions in findings about games’ effect on violence, for example, can be attributed to researchers’ assumptions about the kinds of games they use in their studies (Squire, 2003).  I will then discuss three benefits related to games for learning.  The benefits have been mapped onto three different views of how people learn—in a social world, through situated experience, and by practicing skills—and follow a general narrowing of the activities around game-play where the first view treats games at a macro level and the last view at a micro level.  These levels are not discrete, however, and there is quite a bit of overlap between the three.  Finally, I will cover three controversies related to gaming: violence, addiction, and the propagation of social oppression from off-screen life to gaming life.

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Mark’s PhD exams, question 1

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