Meaningful DGBL experiences


Students, teachers, policy makers and parents should be motivated by the value that digital game based learning (DGBL) activities offer for schools. The implementation of DGBL has, however, faced social and cultural challenges that have resulted in a slow acceptance of their technologies in mainstream classrooms. Modern approaches to DGBL pedagogies have resulted in computer generated environments (CGE) where communities of practice can create meaningful knowledge systems to develop and lead connectivist participatory cultures that seek to solve social issues in constructive ways as emerging citizens using games such as Tropical America and Quest Atlantis. Despite the popularity of console games, their associated transmedia content and the development of engaging, pedagogically sound DGBL resources, mainstream education has been slow to adopt and develop sustainable approaches to implementing these technologies in classrooms or formal learning environments. The main challenge facing the use of DGBL is a consistent fear among teachers, parents and the community about the negative effects of video games such as aggressive behaviours and problem use or addiction. Teachers need to approach these community concerns about video games in an ethical way and design or re-purpose DGBL activities in objective and rational directions that consider these issues and address relevant curriculum outcomes.


Violence in DGBL – Using what it can teach us …

Concerns about violence and high levels of problem gaming are identified as significant barriers to the implementation of DGBL in education by parents (Bourgonjon et. al., 2011, p. 1436; Squire, 2002; Schrader, Zheng and Young, 2006, p. 2-3) and experienced teachers (Baek, 2008, p. 670; Prensky, 2003; Zheng and Young, 2006, p. 2-3). Media reports about the violent aspects of video games have been consistent since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 because Harris and Klebold had been playing and hosting a website about the popular 3D first person shooter game DOOM (Barab et. al., 2005, p. 86; Sternheimer, 2010, p. 75; Jenkins, 2006, p. 27) (Video link: SilentChaos68, 2012) (See Image 1). Lowood (2006, p. 28) dates the beginning of modern computer games at Doom’s release because the open development model by the game’s designers led to a large increase in gamer collaboration on the design of the genre that quickly resulted in the equally popular Wolfenstein, Quake and Counterstike. Six years earlier, in 1993, DOOM had also inspired the design of educational games by DGBL advocate Marc Prensky who utilised the affordances of the computer generated environment (CGE) to create an engaging and fun learning experience for fellow corporate executives at Bankers Trust (Meyer, 1998). Prensky (2003; 2005; 2006) and other DGBL advocates such as Gee (2003), Squire (2002) and Jenkins (1999 and 2004) led the charge, literally, in defence of video games in the face of consistent derision about the negative effects of video games.

The positive contribution of computer games to education were largely overshadowed by cumbersome edutainment products during the early noughties because they failed to provide learning opportunities beyond behaviourist pedagogies of drill and skill repetition and mastery (Van Eck, 2004, p. 3). Charsky (2010, p. 180) argues that edutainment games, though free of violence and unlikely to be the cause of problem gaming, were also perceived to lack constructivist taxonomies that extended cognitive skills toward higher order thinking such as creativity and meta- cognitive self reflection (Bloom, 1956; Bloom and Krathwohl, 1984; Anderson, Krathwohl and Bloom, 2001; Krathwohl, 2002, Churches, 2009, p. 4) (See Image 2). In this context, violent video games came under increased scrutiny and criticism by psychologists who claimed that mastery is attained through repetitive practice and this is exactly what violent video game taxonomies provided for aggressive behaviour (Lee and Peng, 2006, p. 2-9; Gentile and Gentile, 2008).

Psychologists developed the general aggression model (GAM) to study the effects of video game violence with results providing evidence of increased aggression (Anderson et. al., 2004; Anderson and Carnagey, 2004; Prot et. al., 2014, p. 110). Buckley and Anderson (2006, p. 366-9) revised the GAM and developed the General Learning Model (GLM) to support the previous findings of Grossman’s (1999) that video games with violent content contribute to long term increases in aggressive behaviours (Grossman and DeGaetano, 2009). Squire (2002) argues that such conclusions about video game violence in psychological studies are based on faulty logic of outdated ‘behaviourist’ theories. For example the same findings can be demonstrated about effects that result from exposure to competitive computer games about sport that are considered more socially acceptable (Sherry, 2001, p. 424). Jenkins (2004, p. 210), however, made important distinctions between violence as entertainment and the meaningful knowledge possessed by game players who can use metacognition to separate the game from real world experience. Jenkins (2004, p. 210) further argued that Grossman’s (1999) psychological models do not consider the need for conscious meaning making to occur as a prerequisite for knowledge creation. Squire (2002) also highlights the logical errors in the findings of Anderson and Dill’s (2000) data, instead arguing that studies demonstrate an increased cohesion in families who were given games consoles in cultural experiments (Mitchell, 1985, p. 123).

In 2006 Van Eck (2006a, pp. 1-2) claimed that DGBL had overcome the negative stigma and that ‘digital natives’ were a more than just an economic ($10 billion) force to be ‘entertained’ because the growing literature demonstrated that video game characteristics were designed using well established learning theories. Prensky (2003), Gee (2003) and Jenkins’ (1999; 2004) passionate defences for DGBL and video games is supported by empirical research that highlights the importance of meaning in playing games that provide immersive learning opportunities (Barab et. al., 2005, p. 87; Vorderer, 2001, p. 253; Lee and Peng, 2006, p. 22- 23; Squire et. al., 2005, p. 37-40; Buckley and Anderson, 2006, p. 367; Ritterfeld and Weber, 2006, p. 402; Lieberman, 2006). The designed experiences within DGE of DGBL feature narratives and characters that frame play and learning with situated cognition that results in deeper learning through meaning making (Van Eck, 2006, p. 4; Barab et. al., 2005, p. 87). Jenkins (2004, p. 220-1) argued that DGBL advocates need to address the issue of video game violence as a sociocultural issue and examine what it can tell us about ourselves rather than as an effective issue related to individuals. Teachers need to shift the focus of activities toward meta cognitive learning opportunities afforded by CGE of violent video games such as those of Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and repurpose activities using constructivist pedagogies that give students opportunities to develop their higher order thinking skills (Jenkins, 2004, p. 217; Ang, Anvi and Zapharis, 2008, p. 540; Turkay et. al., 2014 pp. 6-8). Weber et. al., (2006, p. 415) argue that the interpretation of gameplay is the most significant factor of how attitudes of players are affected and suggest that some violent simulations are a valid way to prepare for social life (Weber et al., 2006 p. 425) e.g. law enforcement simulations.


The importance of play – what it means for DGBL?

Teachers need to critically assess the psychological relationship between play, games and learning when implementing DGBL activities in the classroom because quality games are designed to create a sense of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997, p. 4; Chen, 2007) or enjoyment that challenges player abilities without making things too easy or difficult. Counter strike and Call of Duty gamers have demonstrated high levels of meta- cognitive thinking and information fluency skills by analysing effects of ‘flow’ on their experiences and published these evaluations using transmedia (ohaple, 2014). Recent research into the psychological concept of flow in DGBL has turned to neuroscience and studies of brain functions for evidence to support theories about learning and also the negative aspects of video games such as addictiveness (de Freitas, 2013, p. 96; Aldrich, 2009, p. 442; Gentile, Groves and Gentile, 2014, p. 122; Kuss and Griffiths, 2012, p. 357; Prensky, 2012). Sapolsky (2004, p. 1790) outlines the role of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex (PFC) in providing a taxonomy of executive memory processes and the ability to set more difficult goals because dopamine levels rise at the anticipation of increased rewards due to deferred gratification. The design of games must consider how the PFC manages the setting of both short term and long term goals because quality game characteristics balance compulsive and addictive behaviours that result from the use of uncertainty in reward systems (Sapolsky, 2003 and cited in ForaTV, 2011; Gentile, Groves and Gentile, 2014, p. 125; Ozcelik, Cagiltay and Ozcelik, 2013; Game Design Conference, 2012; Costikyan, 2013; 2014; Dickey, 2007, p. 265). de Freitas (2013, p. 96) argues that neuroscience has potential to improve the design of reward systems that encourage and motivate in DGBL and describes this as the ‘holy grail’ of future research.

Bay-Hintz et. al., (1994, p. 445) demonstrated that cooperative (board) games and physical activities can decrease the level of aggression in students and are valid resources for addressing negative social issues. Brom, Sisler and Slavík (2009, p. 23) argue that such traditional approaches to classroom activities can benefit from the use of computers as supportive tools when curriculum outcomes are properly aligned with the goals of the game. Setting goals in DGBL with taxonomies based on neuroscientific theories about deferred gratification may offer designed learning opportunities that some students have identified as ‘getting their brain working’ (Beavis, Muspratt and Thompson, 2015, p. 39). Balancing games’ addictiveness with more socially acceptable behaviours can be achieved by encouraging positive activities such as those advocated by Jenkins’ conceptualisation of online participatory culture (2006b, p.3; and cited in TEDx Talks, 2010). Csikszentmihalyi (1997, p. 5-7) argues that personal, cultural and social happiness can be attained by achieving a sense of flow in life. Teachers can benefit from the application of this concept in DGBL activities because they are important design characteristic of reward structures to sustain motivation through enjoyment and make learning ‘fun’. Shaffer (2006a, p.2) argues that aligning games toward life goals by using epistemic frameworks (2006b, p. 225) will assist children to develop the digital literacies they need for the innovative technologies that they will need to use in the future.


Re-purposing fun games using DGBL

Rewarding and punishing aggressive behaviour in games is a consistent feature of the feedback information system (HUD) of first person shooter games where player characters’ health will diminish rapidly if they fail to use tactical approaches and go in ‘all guns blazing’ (Linehan et. al., 2011, p. 7). These feedback systems are also used in MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft (WOW) where levels of uncertainty about player performance can be monitored through audio visual features that measure the game’s information system. The levels of uncertainty (Ozcelik, Cagiltay and Ozcelik, 2013; Game Design Conference, 2012) and audio visual aspects of WOW’s information systems have been likened to gambling machine interfaces and suggested to be the cause of addictive behaviour and problem gaming (King, Delfabbro and Griffiths, 2010, p. 91). The Victorian government initiative in DGBL implementation has sought to develop meta-cognitive, self reflective skills within students who were involved in designing games described as ‘addictive’ (State Government of Victoria Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2011a; b). MMORPGs such as WOW have been a recent focus of research about problem use (Peters and Malesky Jr, 2008, p. 481) and early adopters of these games have developed DGBL resources that are aligned with curriculum outcomes and social awareness (Sheehy, 2008; 2009; 2014).

Barab et. al., (2005, p. 87; and Barab et. al., 2009) demonstrate the use of socio- responsive DGBL with the MMORPG Quest Atlantis that engages students in fun learning opportunities related to personal, social, cultural, ethical and environmental issues. The immersive platform of Quest Atlantis (Callwell, 2010) is similar to other CGE technologies such as Secondlife and Opensim that provide opportunities for teachers to re-purpose curriculum content in simulations with pedagogies based on psychological learning theories of situated cognition (van Eck, 2006b, p. 24). Whitton (2009, p. 77) highlights virtual worlds as immersive environments where teachers can implement constructivist pedagogies so that students can learn through problem solving and exploration. Teachers can in this way re- purpose behaviourist style chalk and talk activities about curriculum content toward more epistemic enquiry and problem based pedagogies (Squire, 2002; Aldrich, 2004, p. 392) by using the TPack (Koehler and Mishra, 2009, p. 60) framework and the SAMR model (SAMR Model, n.d.; Puentedura, 2010) (See Image 3).

Lee and Peng (2006, p. 24) highlight the important role of CGE to create immersive ‘flow’ for learning and highlight the affordances of game characteristics such as challenge, fantasy, control and curiosity (Malone and Lepper, 1987) in successful computer games. The popularity of computer games such as WOW that feature immersive characteristics of challenge, fantasy and curiosity have led to focused attention in DGBL research on the MMORPG genre (Villalta et. al., 2011; Huang, Huang and Tschopp, 2010; Wu and Richards, 2012). Ritterfield and Weber (2006, p. 404) suggested that MMORPGs are the most effective DGBL platform for formal and informal educational settings because they are adaptable to the needs of 21st C learners. MMORPGs such as WOW and Quest Atlantis are representative of technologies that are components of an emergent participatory culture focusing on leadership skills that are influencing the 21st C curriculum (Jenkins, 2006b, p. 14;Gee and Hayes, 2011, pp. 146-9; Choontanom and Nardi, 2012, pp. 187-9). MMORPG communities demonstrate high levels of information fluency by creating vast amounts of transmedia that often ‘goes viral’ because of the inherent value it gives to the audiences (Errant Signal, n.d.; Extra Credits, n.d.; The Game Theorists, 2013). Policy makers are responding to these shifts in culture caused by digital games such as MMORPGs because their information systems can help to develop 21st C information fluency needed for emerging citizenship (Mihailidis and Thevenin, 2013, p. 1615). Training teachers to redefine curriculum content and pedagogy in schools is occurring with innovative initiatives that seek to adopt and align DGBL technologies to the curriculum (State Government of Victoria Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2011a-e; Groff, Howells and Cranmer, 2010).



Video games are a popular form of entertainment in our society and the ubiquitous nature of their consumption is epitomised by collaborative narratives produced by digital natives based on games such as  Call of Duty (Rivera, 2015; Heritage, 2015). More ‘cerebral’ mobile games such as Monument Valley and The Stanley Parable can help redefine classroom environments and facilitate the production of digitally produced cultural artefacts that are a result of project based learning activities. Well designed games for the classroom offer an insight into a society whose members have embraced the use of digital technology for playing, gaming and learning in a civilised way. The education curriculum also has an opportunity to prepare children for a civilised future that includes a responsible and constructive attitude toward DGBL. Understanding how the negative effects of video games offer opportunities for meaningful learning, self reflection and leadership when aligned properly with the curriculum is a valid direction for knowledge communities to move in for the future.





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