The summer of Tomb Raider

I approached the James Paul Gee text with curiosity and skepticism, given my own experience with video games. I have to admit that my last true dedication to a video game was when I “wasted” a whole summer playing Tomb Raider with my sister on our PlayStation. At the end of our video game experience I can remember feeling an odd sense of accomplishment (having successfully battled oversized rats, and winged zombie-like-monsters as I remember them) but I don’t recall feeling like I benefited from some insightful learning experience. In fact, when I reminisce about that summer it has always been with a small sense of embarrassment. When I think about all the other productive things I could have done during that time, there is a small shame. I enjoy a game of Super Mario Bros every now and then on my Nintendo DX during a long ride (and even finished my last game, yea me!) but in general I really don’t devote much time to video games. Reading the Gee text forced me to look back on that “wasted” summer and rethink my whole experience.

The version of Tomb Raider that I played was different from the one Gee describes in his book, but I found myself wondering if there were things that I was learning, even unconsciously, as I played the game. Gee writes that playing certain video games like Lara Croft can give players the experience of “trying new identities that challenge some of their assumptions about themselves and the world” (117). He also explains that taking on another character can make you, at least while you are playing the game, become more like them than yourself. I can see how taking on different perspectives can make you a better learner, but I don’t remember having such an experience when playing video games. In fact, when I played Tomb Raider many years ago I never felt like I was becoming more like the character while playing. My goal was to conquer the game by any means necessary because I was interested in how the story would unfold; I don’t think the experience challenged any of my views about my surroundings or myself. I also must admit that as a female playing video games I am often concerned and agitated with how women are portrayed. I think this concern has kept me from fully identifying with the characters that I have previously played.

Overall, there is value in engaging in a conversation about video games and learning. Playing video games can definitely be challenging, and Gee correctly points out in the beginning of his text “confronting a new form of learning and thinking can be both frustrating and life enhancing” (7). We have discussed previously in this course how working through frustration can deepen our understanding of things, and does add value to the learning experience. The particular game that I am most familiar with may not have opened my eyes to new knowledge, but I do believe that there are video games out there that can certainly accomplish that task.  For this reason I do see the merits in Gee’s argument.

2 thoughts on “The summer of Tomb Raider

  1. Miriam "Mimi" Hughes

    This commentary raises an important point based on first-hand experience: a video game spurs a player to win, win, win and not necessarily to transfer the cognitive processes involved to other real world situations. The value of Gee’s book was thus for me (a non-gamer) the clarity with which he extrapolates the learning principles that he identifies in video gaming and his encouragement to find ways to apply them to other teaching/ skills acquisition endeavors. Not easily done, but certainly worth defining the techniques used in the games and trying to figure out how to use them creatively in the classroom and beyond.

  2. ssexton2

    I think that we view video games as a waste of time because our society views it that way. What if we take the guilt out of playing video games and just enjoy the process? Do you think that might make a difference? What if we lose ourselves in the process – would that allow us to view our learning from Gee’s perspective?

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