Online Gamers and the Development of 21st Century Skills

Lisa Galarneau

Though the possibility of videogames for learning has been discussed somewhat widely in the last few years, particularly as it relates to so-called “serious games” or other explicitly educational endeavors, there has been less attention paid to entertainment titles and the sorts of learning that occur spontaneously through engagement with them. For while we would all agree that people learn in order to play, we tend to focus quite negatively on the tricky questions of whether what is learned is educationally or otherwise valid, measurable in an accepted way, or directly transferable to other contexts.

One issue is that we have carved out the specific phenomenon of single-player gaming, allowing stereotypes about socially-isolated players to perpetuate, even though this image is, in fact, a red herring in light of more recent play patterns. Games have always been primarily social, as evidenced by millennia of documented game play between humans. There was, however, a period of time when emerging computer technologies did not adequately support multiplayer gaming; it was that time when computer games found their place in mainstream consciousness and the image of the lone player more or less permanently etched itself into the minds of non-gamers. However, players have found all sorts of ways to play single-player games collaboratively, and as our computer networks continue to evolve, players are now increasingly drawn to multiplayer gaming environments where cooperation with other players becomes the key defining characteristic of the play experience. Indeed, these environments have become powerful practice arenas for a range of important 21st century skills like team-work, communication, collaborative problem-solving, and information literacy in a network context.

This talk will outline the results from a recent survey of nearly ten thousand online gamers in one specific game environment in relation to their experiences collaborating with others online and the types of skills that are necessary to achieve mastery in those environments. It will also illuminate the profile of these gamers, not limited to a stereotypical view, but making explicit the increasingly broad representation from a range of age groups, professions, and socioeconomic contexts. Finally, I will argue that the development of sociocultural literacies, comfort with diversity, and ability to thrive in chaotic, information-rich environments are key skills for the 21st century; skills that are given nominal attention in explicitly educational environments, but that people are honing every day in game worlds where such skills are fundamental to mastery but learned incidentally through play.

Click here to close the window.