Vygotsky argued that “the influence of play on a child’s development is enormous… .” It is through play that a child can take on identities and experiment with actions even before she appreciates the meanings associated with these actions.
For philosopher Hans Gadamer, play is serious, structured, and involves the suspension of belief versus pretense, reality versus unreality. We play roles, not to step into the life of some imagined Other, but to stretch ourselves into another being (character) that can act with that Other. And, in the 21st Century one of the most dominant forms of play occurs through videogames.
In most contemporary videogames, learners do not mindlessly click on buttons, but instead engage rich narrative storylines and employ complex discursive practices and problem solving strategies as they come to master and appreciate the underlying game dynamics. Scholars are increasingly documenting the discursive richness, depth of collaborative inquiry, complexity of game play, opportunities for consequentiality, rich perception-action cycles, exploration of situated identities, and complex forms of learning and participation that can occur during game play. Through participation in videogame worlds, one can literally redefine oneself and develop understandings and dispositions that were, heretofore, quite difficult to achieve.
In this course, students explore the power of games for education. We will play games, read about games, theorize about games, and even create games. This course will be both practical and theoretical, pushing students to critically examine game play, claims and theories related to game play, and then exploring the implications for game and education design. Consistent with my other graduate seminars, class activities will include a mixture of group work, class discussions, Socratic dialogues, lectures, readings, essays, and hands-on activities. Readings will range from philosopher Hans Gadamer to games scholar Henry Jenkins to game designer Richard Bartle. And, yes, you will be required to play games, ranging from Zelda on a Nintendo DS to Trauma Center on a platform to Minecraft on a PC. We will also be playing games designed for learning such as PeaceMaker, Quest Atlantis, Do I have a Right, Columbine, and GameStar Mechanic.
About Sasha A. Barab PhD
Sasha Barab is a Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, where he co-founded and serves as the Executive Director of the Center for Games and Impact.
Dr. Barab is an internationally recognized Learning Scientist who holds the Pinnacle West Chair of Education, and who has researched, designed, and published extensively on the challenges and opportunities of using games for impact.