Video Games and Theories of Learning: Spotlight on JP Gee and Howard Gardner
Plenty of people in all stages of their lives are fascinated by video games. The games practice can be long, difficult, and challenging, yet the players consider it fun and inspiring. It is hard not to admit that playing games has social and cultural significance in our society. According to J. P. Gee (2003), there are learning principles (LP) that are built into good video games. But these principles do not necessarily boost learning. Several factors are necessary for learning to occur in games and perhaps develop intelligences in the semiotic domain of the daily life. Gee teaches that there are thirty-six learning principles possible to be found and developed in games.
To explain this, Gee defines games as semiotic domain (SD), which, in turn, is part of the wider SD of everyday life. So to speak, a SD is a certain division of the world (whether a location, practice, field of study, etc.) and it can encompass sub-domains. For instance, first and third-person shooter games are a well-defined sub-domain of the games SD. By introducing the concept of SD to games studies, Gee gives us examples of SD like rap, modernist paintings and games of the genre first person shooter. Gee believes that to achieve learning from a SD is necessary three things: 1) learn to experience the world in different ways, 2) learn to form affiliations with members of the SD, and 3) learn how to gain the necessary resources for future learning and problem solving in the domain, as well as in related domains. As we can see, Gee seeks to approximate games 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 the contemporary culture, articulate language (spoken, gestural, or written) is not the only important communication system. Nowadays, images, symbols, charts, diagrams, equations, artifacts and many other visual symbols play a particularly important role in our daily lives. For example, it is important to learn visual literacy to “read” the pictures in an advertisement. Furthermore, words and images are juxtaposed or integrated in many ways: in magazines, newspapers, textbooks, software, etc. Images take more space and have meanings that can be independent of the words in 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 we live in, it becomes necessary to develop a new model of intelligence that allows us to embrace a pluralistic view of intelligence. Howard Gardner’s (1983) influential definition of intelligence was developed by means of 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 skills:
1) to use language with competence (linguistic),
2) to use logical reasoning in mathematics and science (logical-mathematical),
3) to perceive details of the visual-spatial world and to manipulate objects in mind (spatial),
4) to understand, create and enjoy music and musical concepts (musical),
5) to use the body skillfully (bodily-kinesthetic);
6) to recognize subtle aspects of the behavior of others and respond appropriately to them (interpersonal),
7 ) to understand the one’s own feelings (intrapersonal), and
8) to recognize patterns and differences in nature (naturalist).
These categories or intelligences represent elements that can be found in all cultures, namely music, words, logic, paintings, 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 content imaginable, intelligence, to Gardner, is a capability with its own processes that are geared to specific contents in the world (e.g., musical sounds or spatial patterns).
From this perspective, Gee (2003) and Gardner (1983) value the interplay between learning and skills present in everyday life (culture) of people. So when we think about the SD approach, as developed by Gee, we realized that the interaction between both theories, the SD of everyday life, the largest existing set – where the intelligences are located – encompasses the SD of games. Note that Gardner points out that one of the goals of his endeavor is to examine the educational implications of a theory of multiple intelligences. Considering that, Gee listed thirty-six learning principles present in games, and considering the importance and popularity of games in contemporary culture, it seems interesting to begin to investigate how the learning principles can relate to the multiple intelligences. So we discuss here some possibilities of association between these theories. To accomplish this, the question we want to take up is this: What can the learning principles built into good games could do for the development of multiple intelligences, which are so important to everyday life? In other words: What is the relationship between these semiotic domains? To answer this, we have used the following research methodology: literature review, research on websites, observation of games, construction of the model of interaction between the two learning proposals, and analysis of the model.
Gee describes thirty-six learning principles which can be found in games. It is noteworthy that not all learning principles listed by the author are necessarily found on a single game – there is the possibility that a game conveys one or more of these principles. The analysis shows that to develop one or more intelligences, the learner must be immersed in one or more semiotic domains which have the conditions and qualities needed to facilitate its development. For example: there is no use to an apprentice of a sport modality to have access to only one modality for the full development of his Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence, he needs to have access to various sports, namely various sub semiotic domains which are part of the larger semiotic domain of the sports. Besides that, there are other extrinsic and intrinsic factors (motivation, injuries, and appropriate training materials, etc.) that are important to succeed in the entire domain, like a sport modality. Examples of several prominent athletes demonstrate this fact: Formula 1 drivers, MMA fighters and Olympic athletes. In this sense, our research shows the existence of a binomial unexcelled: 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 forward within that domain. Thus, multiple intelligences cannot be fully developed in certain cultural contexts and the learning principles are worthless in these contexts
Moreover, the Interpersonal intelligence is very important in learning. We found that it is associated to thirty of the thirty-six learning principles. The Interpersonal intelligence clearly arises from cooperative work, community involvement, simulations of large groups, dedication to social issues, etc. Precisely the importance of Interpersonal intelligence, as Gardner notes, has been reduced in the contemporary educational scene: the sensitivity to other individuals as individuals and the ability to collaborate with others are increasingly less important now than it did in the past. Thus, we believe that the results of the comparison between these theories put into question the ways we design and manage education in its various spheres. For this reason, we believe that further analysis of the intersection of the theories studied here may help us in both the use of games as a pedagogical proposal and in thinking about education.
The association between both theories seemed productive for us to reflect on games and learning in general. Firstly, 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 development of multiple intelligences. And this occurs even when the game conveys the learning principle or the basic conditions to develop them, which demonstrates a close association between the principles and intelligences.
Secondly, the Interpersonal intelligence is associated to thirty learning principles. This demonstrates the complexity of learning and consequently shows the challenges that contemporary education must face. In fact, the study of the interaction between the theories can help us think about new ways of teaching and learning inside and outside of school. It seems that the relevance of Gee’s is in highlighting the importance of games culturally and for learning, while Gardner’s learning theory emphasizes the necessity of favorable conditions (environment, mentors, cultural appreciation, etc.) for the development of skills. We should remember that skills or intelligences 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 domain of everyday life, given its intimate link to the majority of the intelligences.
Howard Gardner. Frames of mind. 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).