EDT791: Video Games, Literacy and Learning

Posted by Jeff Beeman on Sat, 01/19/2008 - 18:26

This past Wednesday, I started my second semester of the Educational Technology (EDT) master's degree at ASU. Last semester, I realized just how difficult having a demanding job and going to school could be, so I decided to cut back this semester to just one class. That one class is Video Games, Literacy and Learning, and if the first class is any indication, it should be a real blast.

I've had a hard time explaining the course to my wife, friends and colleagues without getting eyes rolled skyward and sarcastic mumbles about how "hard" my homework will be. In spite of that, I do believe the class will be more difficult, and much more work, than they think. Our main assignment for the semester is to play at least 50 hours of a game (or multiple games, if we beat one before 50 hours is up), keeping a weekly journal of writings about our experience as it relates to the material we're learning in our readings and course discussions. These readings will be fun, but based on educational theory, concepts of learning, and won't exactly be "easy." However, if know my enthusiasm for gaming, you'll know right away how exciting this is for me. If you don't, well, continue reading...

I've been playing games for as far back as I can remember. I literally cannot remember a time when we didn't have some sort of gaming system in the house growing up. At some point when I was no older than 5, my dad brought home an Atari 2600. I can't remember every game we had at the time, but I have remarkably clear memories of sitting in the living room on beach towels with my brother - both of us in wet swimsuits and eating Peter Piper Pizza - and playing Pitfall, Missile Command, Pac-Man, or the absolutely terrible game that for some unholy reason we loved at the time: E.T.

Around this time, both my dad and my grandfather were getting into computers, and I was able to get exposed to quite a few cool PC games. On our old XT, I had the good fortune of playing text adventures like Zork, whiz-bang games like Mean 18 and a few fun educational games that I can't remember the titles of now ([something] Castle, sounds familiar...). These games were my initiation into the world of the personal computer. I give large credit to my dad and grandpa's interest in computers, and their encouragement and desire for me to explore them, to my passion and success as a web developer today.

Eventually, we got a Nintendo for Christmas, along with Super Mario Bros., Metroid and Kid Icarus. We played, rented and bought games for it until one summer, when we got a Super Nintendo, for good grades. The Super Nintendo was my introduction to "real" role-playing games, with Final Fantasy II and III (now known as IV and VI, respectively), Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana and similar games. It was also the home of Super Street Fighter, Super Mario World, and countless other games that truly made me fall in love with gaming. During this time, we also got a 386 PC, which I used to play King's Quest VI, Doom, Tie Fighter, Civilization, SimCity and dozens of other fantastic games.

From there, the rest isn't entirely worth relating in detail, as it's really just more of the same, albeit on different systems and with different games. I can't emphasize enough, though, the importance of the fact that throughout our childhood our parents never tried to prevent our gaming - in fact they frequently encouraged it. When I was broke in college, my mom threw me a bone for Christmas and bought me a PlayStation 2 with Final Fantasy X and Grand Theft Auto III. Both my mom and dad put up with literally hours upon hours of my brother and his friends obnoxiously playing Goldeneye 007, calling each other names and arguing over whether the "computer was cheating." It probably seems like no big deal, but as a grownup who now witnesses, on a daily basis, other grownups look down their noses at gamers as though their entertainment is somehow less valid than theirs, I now realize how lucky I was to have parents who were so open to gaming as a hobby.

This post is just the first of many for EDT791. We'll be exploring topics such as Games as complex systems: Domains of meaning and practice; Fish tanks and sandboxes: Entering the game; Identity and learning in games: Motivation and commitment; Complex and specialist language learning through games; Playing and learning: Failure, practice and mastery; and much, much more. So, if you're interested in following my work in the course, I'll be tagging all everything for it as EDT791 and Gaming, so you can follow along with the posts on those pages, or just by following the feed for my front-page posts.