Gamification in Education & Distant Reading Skills

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In the article, “Good Video Games and Good Learning,” James Paul Gee discusses the advantages of video games in learning certain cognitive skills and interpersonal, socialization skills. I found it interesting in the ways this article relates to the rise of gamification in education.

Challenge and learning are a large part of what makes good video games motivating and entertaining. Humans actually enjoy learning, though sometimes in school you would not know it. –Gee, 34

The main take away from the article is that games encourage development of identity, social interaction, risk taking, customized problem solving, agency, and utilization of situated meanings. When playing a game, a person takes on an identity and becomes committed to following a system of rules that allow the acting out of the character’s identity (34). In adapting this idea to the school setting, as teachers, we need to convince students that this same system applies to different subject areas in education. This taking on of certain skills and applying them relates also to ideas of genre and audience. So, in school the student can take on the identity of a test-taker, knowing that the grader has certain expectations, and follow the system of skills to reach the maximum score potential.

You must inhabit the identity that the game offers (be it Battle Mage or field biologist), and you have to discover what the rules are and how they can best be leveraged to accomplish goals. –Gee, 34

Customization is becoming an important feature in the classroom as demand for Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and differentiated instruction increases.  In gaming, customization is manifested most clearly in the different difficulty levels in a game, but there are also features in many games that allow for different means of problem solving. Gee also suggests that curriculum should not only be customized based on student learning needs but also on the “learner’s interests, desires, and styles” (35). Gee importantly notes that all of these gaming principles create agency and ownership of actions (36). This is highly important, and sadly mostly missing, in education. This principle leads to higher engagement of the student in their learning and students can learn to become self-determined forming their own opinions about what interests them and what to take away from texts and topics discussed in the classroom.

I thought: Lots of young people pay lots of money to engage in an activity that is hard, long, and complex. As an educator, I realized that this was just the problem our schools face — how do you get someone to learn something long, hard, and complex, and yet still enjoy it? I became intrigued by the implications that good video games might have for learning in and out of schools –Gee, 34

Another benefit of games is that meaning is always situated visually. Gee uses the example: “consider ‘The coffee spilled, go get a mop’ versus ‘The coffee spilled, go get a broom’” (36). Contextually between the two examples we can see that the word coffee is being used differently; in the first sentence liquid coffee was spilled and in the second coffee grounds were spilled. I have experienced in tutoring in the reading comprehension areas that common words can be used in very specific contexts in academic reading, which causes confusion among students.

One way to help situate meaning in school is to include multiple text forms on the same topic, including a variety of genres, images, and videos. This idea of drawing on multiple sources relates to horizontal reading. The primary advantage of horizontal reading is that it allows a comparison between multiple accounts of an event.  This process can also be called distant reading, as it is technically the opposite of close reading, which focuses on one text to derive meaning.


Examples of Distant Reading

Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading explained in short video.

Distant Reading: Big Data + Old History (Irish Immigrants): Adam Crymble describes his thesis of using Distant reading methods for historical analysis of Irish Immigrants in 19th century London, England.



Gee, James Paul. “Good Video Games and Good Learning.” Originally published in Phi Kappa Forum 85:2 (2005 ) 33-37. Available



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