"Video Games and the Future of Learning"
by James P. Gee, Richard Halverson, Kurt R. Squire, and David Williamson Shaffer
--Wiki edited by Rae Lee, Crystal Ortiz, and Vicki Xiong


The future of learning lies in video games. Games when "personally meaningful, experiential, social, and epistemological"[1] may promote learning. Video games enables a social aspect absent in regular instruction. It places players in a stimulated world where they can apply certain social practices as well as implement learned facts and/or skills. Video games place learners in a world where they can become participants of learning and thus subsequently develop their own thinking within that virtual community.

The paper argues that video games, if created with theories of learning and/or research in design, may change the way we learn. The question at hand is: "How can we use the power of video games as a constructive force in school, homes, and at work?"[2]

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Video games as virtual worlds for learning

Games are great learning tools because they allow learners to step into a virtual world where they have to think, talk, and act on a role to progress in the game. Games push learners to become participants and to apply their knowledge and skills through roles that are realistically inaccessible in the real world. Virtual worlds that games create are powerful contexts for learning. They empower learners to experience what is normally learned traditional pen and paper; they "experience the concrete realities that words and symbols describe."[3] Video games and the virtual worlds they create enables the development of situated understanding in learners. It creates an environment of application.

Gaming has become a social phenomenon. In these virtual worlds learners are able to connect with hundreds and thousands of other learners from all over the world simultaneously at any given time. The stereotype of games creating anti-socialism is no longer a prevalent one. Playing video games builds effective social practices in learners and allows players to experiment and take now new identities.
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Virtual worlds in gaming "integrate knowing and doing."

From the fact fetish to ways of thinking

“To KNOW is a verb before it is a noun, KNOWLEDGE.”

The article argues that we learn by doing. We learn by doing something as part of a larger community of people who share common goals and ways of achieving those goals. Different communities of practice have different ways of thinking and acting. For example, lawyers act like lawyers. They identify themselves as lawyers, know about the lawexternal image FullSpectrumWarriorCover.jpg, and are interested in legal issues. Doctors are the same, but for a different way of thinking.

The way of thinking—the epistemology—of a practice determines how someone in the community decides what questions are worth answering, how to go about answering them, and how to decide when an answer is sufficient. The epistemology of a practice organizes the situated understandings, effective social practices, powerful identities, and shared values of the community. Knowledge, skills, identities, and values are shaped by a particular way of thinking into a coherent epistemic frame in communities of practice.

Example: Full Spectrum Warrior - a video game based on a U.S. Army training simulation
In this game players has to learn to think and act like a modern professional soldier in order to play the game successfully. The players give orders to two squad of soldiers, consult a GPS device, radio for support, and communicate with rear area commanders. The game takes advantage of situated learning environment. Just as in real life, people must be able to build meanings on the spot as they navigate their context.

Epistemic games for initiation and transformation

A video game that preserves the linkage between knowing and doing central to an epistemic frame is an epistemic game.
Epistemic games allow players participate in valued communities of practice: to develop a new epistemic frame or to develop a better and more richly elaborated version of an already mastered epistemic frame.


It is a difficult task to create games such as Full Spectrum Warrior that simultaneously build situated understandings, effective social practices, powerful identities, shared values, and ways of thinking. However, there are already existing communities who have done a lot of the work. For example, doctors know how to create more doctors, lawyers know how to create more lawyers, and so on. We can imagine a range of epistemic games in which players learn biology by working as a surgeon, an architect by designing buildings using math, etc.


One example is Madison 2200, an epistemic game based on the practices of urban planning. Players learn about ecology by working as urban planners to redesign a downtown pedestrian mall popular with local teenagers. A video features interviews with local residents, business people, and community leaders about issues concerning the community. Players learn something about urban planning and its practices along the way of playing this game.

In epistemic games like Madison 2200, players learn from activity and experience, of doing something in the world within community of practice.


There are games that are designed to transform the ways of thinking of a professional community. These games tend to focus on atypical problems: places where ways of knowing break down in the face of a new or challenging situation.

The ability to successfully frame problems in complex systems is difficult to develop but Halverson and Rah[4] have shown that a multimedia representation of successful problem framing strategies can help school leaders reexamine the critical junctures where their professional understanding is incomplete or ineffective for dealing with new or problematic situations.

Epistemic games and the future of schooling

Epistemic games give players freedom to act within the norms of a valued community of practice. To work successfully within the norms of a community, players necessarily learn to think as members of the community.

While there are not yet any complete epistemic games in wide circulation, there already exist many games that provide similar opportunities for deeply situated learning.

But even if we had the world’s best educational games produced and ready for the shelves, it’s not clear that most educators or schools would know what to do with them. While the majority of students play video games, the majority of teachers do not. Even if we sanitize games and remove the blood and guts, the theories of learning embedded in them run counter to the current social organization of schooling. Understanding how games can provide powerful learning environments might go a long way toward changing the current anti-gaming discourse.

Even though epistemic games of the kind that are described in the article are not yet on the radar of most educators, they are already being used by corporations, the government, and the military to express ideas and teach facts, principles, and world views. Schools and school systems must soon do the same or risk being put aside.

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A new model of learning

To understand the future of learning, we have to look beyond schools to the emerging arena of video games. Video games make it possible for players to participate in valued communities of practice and as a result develop the ways of thinking that organize those practices.

Our students will learn from video games. The questions are: who will create these games and will they be based on sound theories of learning and socially conscious educational practices?

We need to understand how inhabiting a virtual world develops situated knowledge. We need to understand how game players develop effective social practices and skills in navigating complex systems, and how those skills can support learning in other complex domains. And most of all, we need to leverage these understandings to build games that develop for players the epistemic frames of scientists, engineers, lawyers, and other valued communities of practice—as well as games that can help transform those practices for experienced professionals.

Video games have the potential to change the landscape of education as we know it.

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Madison 2200 image taken from http://epistemicgames.org/eg/madison-2200-2/
Multiple images taken from photobucket.com


  1. ^ Gee, J.P., Shaffer, D.W., Squire, K.R., & Halverson, R. (2004). Video Games and the Future of Learning. University of Wisconsin-Madison and Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Laboratory. https://eee.uci.edu/11y/12385/home/Gee+-+Video+games+and+the+future+of+learning.pdf
  2. ^ Gee, J.P., Shaffer, D.W., Squire, K.R., & Halverson, R. (2004). Video Games and the Future of Learning. University of Wisconsin-Madison and Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Laboratory. https://eee.uci.edu/11y/12385/home/Gee+-+Video+games+and+the+future+of+learning.pdf
  3. ^ Gee, J.P., Shaffer, D.W., Squire, K.R., & Halverson, R. (2004). Video Games and the Future of Learning. University of Wisconsin-Madison and Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Laboratory. https://eee.uci.edu/11y/12385/home/Gee+-+Video+games+and+the+future+of+learning.pdf
  4. ^
    Halverson, R., & Rah, Y. (2004). Representing leadership for social justice: The case of Franklin
    School. Under review by Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership.