Supporting learning about games
Zagal, José Pablo
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It seems like teaching about games should be easy. After all, students enjoy engaging with course content and have extensive experience with videogames. However, games education can be surprisingly complex. I explore the question of what it means to understand games by looking at the challenges and problems faced by students taking games-related classes. My findings include realizing that extensive prior videogame experience often interferes with students abilities to reason critically and analytically about games, and that students have difficulties articulating their experiences and observations about games. In response to these challenges, my research explores how we can use online learning environments to support learning about games by (1) helping students get more from their experiences with games, and (2) helping students use what they know to establish deeper understanding. I explore these strategies through the design and use of two online learning environments: GameLog and the Game Ontology Wiki. GameLog is an online blogging environment designed to help students reflect on their game playing experiences. The Game Ontology wiki provides a context for students to contribute and participate legitimately and authentically in the Game Ontology Project. The Game Ontology Project is a games studies research project that is creating a framework for describing, analyzing and studying games. GameLog and the Game Ontology Wiki were used in university level games-related classes. Results show that students found that participating in these online learning environments was a positive learning experience that helped them broaden and deepen their understanding of videogames. Students found that by reflecting on their experiences playing games they began to understand how game design elements helped shape that experience. Most importantly, they stepped back from their traditional role of gamers or fans and engaged in reasoning critically and analytically about the games they were studying. With GameLog, I show how blogging about experiences of gameplay can be a useful activity for supporting learning and understanding about games. For the Game Ontology Wiki, I show how it is possible to design learning environments that are approachable to learners and allow them to contribute legitimately to external communities of practice.