Gee & Difficulty. Sensing a Theme? ;)

Gee’s What Video Games have to Teach Us… contains a lot of interesting and helpful ideas about thinking and learning, but since I have to focus on something for this post, I’m picking the end of Chapter 6. It stood out to me because of the connections to Salvatori and Donahue re: difficulty in learning.

On pages 172-3, Gee talks about how moving “straightforwardly and efficiently toward the goal” was not the way to win (or succeed in/do well in) a video game. He uses words like “delay,” “sneak,” and “linger” to suggest that the best way to play (and win) is to be slow and patient about it, to be thorough. He suggests that “side trips” are often rewarding, and sometimes essential. If we read “player” as “student,” which of course Gee wants us to do, we see Gee suggesting that the students who look for the easiest path to an “A” grade (often our honors, AP, and gifted students) are missing out on a lot of the real learning. In actuality, the student who struggles, and perseveres, with information or new tasks learns more, and learns better.

Gee also talks about video games having “multiple solutions,” read: ambiguity. As most of our other readings have suggested, ambiguity is a huge part of reading literature, and it is one of the major concepts with which students struggle. Gee suggests that in an ideal classroom, students would explore texts like the virtual world of a video game, going down interesting side paths, lingering over confusing or contradictory sections, considering multiple answers to posed questions, and delaying resolution about meaning. Not only that, but students would fail, try again, fail again, and try once more. “How quickly you proceed,” he says on page 174, “is not a big value”; that is, reading a text once through and coming to a definite conclusion about meaning is not the goal of learning. “Hard is not bad, and easy is not good” (175).

Gee makes it quite clear that students (children, people, humans) do not necessarily shy away from difficulty. But I think the problem circles back to interest: Players of video games may embrace games’ difficulty because they value their accomplishments in that world. Video games are a social activity — for younger kids in particular. They provide common ground for kids, a way for them to judge and compete with each other, to feel proud, to feel challenged. Students may not embrace the difficulty of Jane Eyre because they don’t value knowledge of it — it does nothing for them (they think) other than make them seem “nerdy” or uncool. (I could start talking about peer pressure and its effects on student learning, but I see that I’m already at 451 words, and I’m trying not to get carried away this week!)

The bottom line is that I enjoyed reading Gee, even though I’m not a “gamer,” and even though his endless, endless parentheticals drove me up the WALL. I think he made some really good points, and the way he tied them to the act of playing video games was pretty fascinating to me as an outsider to that world.

1 thought on “Gee & Difficulty. Sensing a Theme? ;)

  1. jkathrynfulton

    You make great observations, Abbie. I think your observation about “interest” ties in with my thoughts on “motivation.” You’re right–video games do provide common ground and kids are typically drawn to them from an early age. It seems like a tough battle to get kids interested in literature as high schoolers when they haven’t been “sucked in.” As I mentioned in another comment on a previous post, it’s tough to break down the walls that have been built up for 15+ years. We’re definitely presented with a challenge! I think it’s important that we don’t become teachers who have taught the same thing for years. Rather, we should continue working to develop new methods and strategies for engaging our students and making literature relevant and meaningful in their lives.

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