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Video Games and Theories of Learning: Spotlight on JP Gee and Howard Gardner
Many people at all stages of their lives are fascinated by video games. Playing games can be long, difficult and challenging, but players find it fun and inspiring. It is hard not to admit that play has a social and cultural meaning in our society. According to JP Gee (2003), there are learning principles (LPs) that are built into good video games. But these principles do not necessarily drive learning. Several factors are necessary for learning to occur in games and perhaps develop intelligences in the semiotic domain of everyday life. Gee teaches that there are thirty-six principles of learning that can be found and developed in games.
To explain this, Gee defines games as a semiotic domain (SD), which, in turn, is part of the broader SD of everyday life. So to speak, a SD is a particular division of the world (be it a location, a practice, a field of study, etc.) and can span subdomains. For example, first- and third-person shooters are a well-defined subdomain of SD games. In introducing the concept of SD to game studies, Gee gives us examples of SD such as rap, modernist paintings, and genre first-person shooters. Gee believes that three things are necessary to succeed in learning from a SD: 1) learning to experience the world in different ways, 2) learning to form affiliations with SD members, and 3) learning to obtain the resources needed for future learning. and troubleshooting in the domain as well as in related domains. As we can see, Gee seeks to bring games closer to a broader definition of literacy that involves different types of “visual literacy”. Following this notion of literacy, people are literate in a domain only if they are able to recognize and produce meanings in the field. Furthermore, Gee proposes that we think of literacy as inherently connected to social practices. In fact, in contemporary culture, articulate language (spoken, gestural or written) is not the only important communication system. Nowadays, images, symbols, graphs, diagrams, equations, artifacts and many other visual symbols play an especially important role in our daily lives. For example, it is important to learn visual literacy in order to “read” the images in an ad. In addition, words and images are juxtaposed or integrated in many ways: in magazines, newspapers, textbooks, software, etc. Images take up more space and have meanings that can be independent of the words in the texts. In this sense, games are multimodal texts. They combine moving images and music with language.
Given the various forms of human activity in the complex society in which we live, it is necessary to develop a new model of intelligence that allows us to adopt a pluralistic vision of intelligence. Howard Gardner’s (1983) influential definition of intelligence was developed through a model of seven basic intelligences known as the theory of multiple intelligences (MI). MI represents a broader and more pragmatic view of human nature. The eight intelligences are defined as the following abilities:
1) use the language with competence (linguistics),
2) use logical reasoning in mathematics and science (logical-mathematical),
3) perceive details of the visual-spatial world and manipulate objects in mind (spatial),
4) understand, create and enjoy music and musical (musical) concepts,
5) use the body skillfully (body-kinesthetic);
6) recognize subtle aspects of the behavior of others and respond to them appropriately (interpersonal),
7) understand one’s feelings (intrapersonal), e
8) recognize patterns and differences in nature (naturalist).
These categories or intelligences represent elements that can be found in all cultures, namely music, words, logic, painting, social interaction, physical expression, inner reflection and appreciation of nature. Thus, unlike a learning style, which is a general approach that the individual can apply equally to any imaginable content, intelligence, for Gardner, is a capacity with processes of its own that are oriented to specific content in the world (e.g. musical sounds or spatial patterns).
From this perspective, Gee (2003) and Gardner (1983) value the interaction between learning and the skills present in people’s everyday life (culture). So when we think about the SD approach, as developed by Gee, we realize that the interaction between both theories, the SD of everyday life, the larger set that exists – where the intelligences are located – encompasses the SD of games. Note that Gardner notes that one of the goals of his endeavor is to examine the educational implications of a theory of multiple intelligences. Given that Gee listed thirty-six learning principles present in games, and given the importance and popularity of games in contemporary culture, it seems interesting to begin investigating how learning principles might relate to multiple intelligences. So we discuss here some possibilities of association between these theories. To achieve this, the question we want to address is the following: What can the learning principles embedded in good games do for the development of multiple intelligences, which are so important for everyday life? In other words: what is the relationship between these semiotic domains? To answer this, we used the following research methodology: literature review, web research, game observation, construction of the interaction model between the two learning proposals and analysis of the model.
Gee describes thirty-six principles of learning that can be found in games. It is worth noting that not all the learning principles listed by the author are necessarily found in a single game; there is a possibility that a game will broadcast one or more of these principles. The analysis shows that to develop one or more intelligences, the student must be immersed in one or more semiotic domains that possess the necessary conditions and qualities to facilitate their development. For example: it is not useful for a learner of a sport modality to have access to only one modality for the full development of his body-kinesthetic intelligence, he needs to have access to several sports, namely several sub-semiotic domains that are part of the wider semiotic domain of sports In addition, there are other extrinsic and intrinsic factors (motivation, injuries, proper training materials, etc.) that are important to be successful in any field, such as a sport. Examples of various prominent athletes demonstrate this fact: Formula 1 drivers, MMA fighters and Olympic athletes. In this sense, our research shows the existence of a binomial without excellence: without learning principles there are no good games, while without the valorization of a domain in the semiotic domain of everyday life there is no way to advance within that domain. Thus, multiple intelligences cannot be fully developed in certain cultural contexts and learning principles do not hold in these contexts.
Also, interpersonal intelligence is very important in learning. We found that it is associated with thirty of the thirty-six learning principles. Interpersonal intelligence clearly emerges from cooperative work, community involvement, large group simulations, dedication to social issues, etc. Precisely the importance of interpersonal intelligence, as Gardner points out, has been reduced in the contemporary educational scenario: sensitivity towards other individuals as individuals and the ability to collaborate with others are less and less important now than in the past. Thus, we believe that the results of the comparison between these theories call into question the ways of designing and managing education in its different areas. For this reason, we believe that a deeper analysis of the intersection of the theories studied here can help us both in the use of games as a pedagogical proposal and in the reflection on education.
The association between both theories seemed productive to reflect on games and learning in general. First, it should be noted that not all games can promote all learning principles. This is because there are many factors in the semiotic domain of everyday life that can hinder learning and the development of multiple intelligences. And this happens even when the game conveys the principle of learning or the basic conditions for developing them, which demonstrates a close association between principles and intelligences.
Second, interpersonal intelligence is associated with thirty learning principles. This demonstrates the complexity of learning and consequently shows the challenges that contemporary education must face. Indeed, studying the interaction between theories can help us think about new ways of teaching and learning in and out of school. It seems that the relevance of Gee’s is to highlight the importance of games culturally and for learning, while Gardner’s learning theory emphasizes the need for favorable conditions (environment, mentors, cultural appreciation, etc.) for the development of skills We must remember that skills or intelligence are valued differently between cultures.
We believe that good video games represent, in fact, opportunities for direct and indirect learning of content and skills in the semiotic realm of everyday life, given their intimate link with most intelligences.
Howard Gardner. Mood frames. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (New York: Basic Books, 1983).
James P. Gee. What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (New York: Palgrave, 2003).
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