Douglas Thomas


Douglas is an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. He is editor of Games & Culture: A Journal of Interactive Media and has published widely on issues of technology and culture. His recent books include Hacker Culture (University of Minnesota Press ) and Technological Visions: The Hopes and Fears that Shape New Technologies (Temple University Press). His current book project is titled Power, Play and Performance: Studying Virtual Worlds.



The Play of Imagination

The relationship between play and learning is both a complicated and fundamental one. As education, play is way of thinking about more than simply what we know; it is a comportment towards the world, a way of not only seeing the world, but of seeing ourselves in it.

As games, particularly virtual worlds, become increasingly popular and as they begin to approximate large scale social systems in size and nature, they have also become spaces where play and learning have merged in fundamental ways. More important is the idea that kind of learning that happens in the spaces of these massively multiplayer online games is fundamentally different than what we have come to consider as standard pedagogical practice. The distinction we make is that traditional paradigms of instruction has addressed learning as “learning about,” while these new forms of learning deal with knowledge through the dynamic of “learning to be.”

This paper is an effort to deal with four inter-related issues. Problems with education as currently conceived, the power of games as imagination and as tools for productive inquiry, the development of a theory of transfer and the connections among play, innovation, and learning.

It is our contention that the experiences offering MMOGs provide a fundamentally different way of thinking about learning which may provide some keys to the development of future pedagogical practice.

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