Shaffer and Gee Talk Video Games and Education

This is a wonderfully illuminating discussion about video games and education. The discussion is between David Williamson Shaffer, author of How Computer Games Help Children Learn and James Paul Gee, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of Why Video Games are Good for the Soul.

The overriding message from Shaffer and Gee: games can do many important things that traditional education can’t.

1. Games can teach critical thinking. Among the educational advantages of Shaffer’s concept of “epistemic games,” the concept calls for a greater focus on metacognition in education. Metacognition is one of the executive functions that can be learned from interacting with digital technologies, as described by Randy Kulman at

2. Games can capture the natural enthusiasm of children for learning. As Shaffer and Gee emphasize in the video, games can make you care in a way that listening to a lecture or memorizing facts for a test really can’t. In another video from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, Gee talks about how playing the game “Portal” teaches all sorts of important science concepts. (He also talks about the problem of “the fourth grade slump” in education, another important issue that needs to be addressed.) In addition, Gee points out that many video games come with an online community for support, with other players of the games willing to offer mentoring to newer players. This is a feature of the gaming community that the educational community would do well to mimic.

3. Games can prepare us better for “solving real world problems.” The ability of games to simulate reality — to present students with a problem that more closely resembles a real life situation — is another reason why games can be such powerful educational tools.