Reed Stevens
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Cognitive Studies in Education
University of Washington


Sketching the Practice: Game Problems and Player Resources in Gaming Studies
Thursday & Friday

In this Interactive Exhibit we will present a synthesis of literature that aims to situate game studies within the broader field of everyday cognition. The analytic framework we describe will focus on two elements of gaming practices; problems and resources. Our attention is then focused on how this framework might be applied to understand the school knowledge that maybe present in game play.

Practice is a concept widely used in studies of everyday thinking and learning that explains the relationship between mental representations, cognitive skills, and culture-specific activities (Scribner, 1997). Solidifying what gaming studies have achieved in regard to describing the shared routines of gaming will help us understand the thinking and learning players engage in and where the field should focus its energy to provide a more advanced understanding of how gamers learn to play games. Our intention is to understand the common and sometimes mundane practices gamers engage in while honing their skills and knowledge. How are these common practices recognized, acquired and appropriated? How do such practices transfer from one context (game or genre) to another? By addressing such questions we set a place for game studies to effectively add to theories of informal learning.

To do this we use existing literature to categorize the problems players face as presented in a variety of studies. For example, Gee (2003) has identified several characteristics problems in video games often have (i.e. problems often have no time limit and multiple solutions). In a different approach, Greenfield (1993) has contended players must develop visual-spatial skills to successfully navigate game spaces. By eliciting these problems, that the player must learn to interpret what is on the screen and how to manage time and solutions, we set markers from which we can begin to hypothesize about the practices that develop in response to them.

The second element of our framework focuses on the cognitive, social, and material resources gamers use to learn and complete games. Williamson and Facer (2004) have argued for descriptions of gaming that include more than a player-game interaction. They highlight the social and material resources commonly used by players and show the implications these resources have for developing a detailed picture of their practice. As an example, Ito (2005) has shown how a local context can provide social resources that help players reshape the goal of the game from that of the designer to one of their own.

Our paper concludes with a possible application of this framework for an inquiry into the proto-disciplinary practices (O'Connor, 1998; Stevens, 2000) and school-based knowledge that may be present in some games. Research suggests that playing video games can develop or enhance skills to support both academic knowledge (Greenfield et al., 1994; Squire & Barab, 2004) and solutions to everyday problems (VanDeventer & White, 2002); however, less focus has been paid to what and how formally acquired knowledge are employed in game play. Understanding the characteristics of the knowledge and behavior that intersect the formal and informal worlds could serve to inform research bridging everyday and school learning.


Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave.
Greenfield, P. (1993). Representational competence in shared symbol systems: Electronic media from radio to video games. In R. R. Cocking & K. A. Renninger (Eds.), The development and meaning of psychological distance (pp. 161 - 184). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Greenfield, P., Camaioni, L., Ercolani, P., Weiss, L., Lauber, B. A., & Perucchini, P. (1994). Cognitive socialization by computer games in two cultres: Inductive discovery of mastery of an iconic code? Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 15, 59-85.

O'Connor, M. C. (1998). Language socialization in the mathematics classroom: Discourse practices and mathematical thinking. In M. Lampert & M. L. Blunk (Eds.), Talking mathematics in school: Studies of teaching and learning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Scribner, S. (1997). Studying working intelligence. In E. Tobach, R. J. Falmagne, M. B. Parlee, L. M. W. Martin & A. S. Kapelman (Eds.), Mind and social practice: Selected writings of Sylvia Scribner (pp. 338-366). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Squire, K., & Barab, S. (2004). Replaying history: Engaging urban underserved students in learning world history through computer simulation games. In Y. B. Kafai, W. A. Sandoval, N. Enyedy, A. S. Nixon & F. Herrera (Eds.), Embracing diversity in the Learning Sciences: Proceedings of the sixth international conference of the Learning Sciences (pp. 505-512). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Stevens, R. (2000). Who counts what as math: Emergent and assigned mathematical problems in a project-based classroom. In J. Boaler (Ed.), Multiple perspectives on Mathematics Education. New York: Elsivier.

VanDeventer, S. & White, J. (2002). Expert behavior in children's video game play. Simulation & Gaming, 33(1), 28-48.

Williamson, B., & Facer, K. (2004). More than 'just a game': The implications for schools of children's computer games communities. Education, Communication, & Information, 4(2/3), 255-270.

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