Video Games in Adolescent Learning

Steinkuehler, C. (2010). Video games and digital literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(1), 61-63.

The author suggest that youth today is situated in a complex digital information-based environment within and outside of school. Although video games and reading have often been diametrically opposed by some, Steinkuehler asks the question of “What is the relationship between video games and reading”? According to Gee (2007), gaming is the production of meaning within the semiotic resources of a game. Thus, the author suggests that video games are about a back and forth between reading the game’s meanings and writing back into them with gaming tools (p. 61).  That means that video games occur in a narrative space that a player or group of players inscribes with their intentions.

Steinkuehler raises a very valid point in wondering why there is such an immense disconnect between games and classrooms. According to the author, there is little to no evidence that the highly literate lives of “gamers” have any positive effect on their in-school identity or performance. Given a lack of research, Steinkuehler offers an illustrative anecdotal story developed from running a quasi-natural lab space for adolescent gamers over a two-year time span. The student highlighted is a seventh grade boy from a working-class, single-parent family. In the casual learning lab, the student avidly read novels based on video game narratives and wrote three books of his own. The author described that the student’s reading and writing gave him authority and social capital from his peer group. Whereas, in the school setting, the student refused to finish a single reading assignment, complained about his teachers, his assignments, the school, and his entire identity. As the student progressed to eighth grade, Steinkeuhler and the casual learning lab team performed some testing that showed when the student was given what he chose to read, he could read four grades above his diagnosed reading levels instead of the three grade levels below with his social studies textbook. The author posits that the difference lay in his self-correction rate (p. 63). Thus, when the student self-selected a topic, one that he intended to use to improve his game-play, he persisted in the face of challenges, struggling through until he got the meaning.

I think that video games have gotten a bad reputation and that student gamers are often negatively stereotyped in schools and I’m not so sure that it is warranted anymore. In my opinion, video games are just like a good novel, they have themes, key characters, a storyline or two, play on emotions or virtue, etc. With that said, educators need to adjust their mindsets and consider ways in which video games can become a legitimate learning medium for students if they desire to go that route. There is something to be said about taking somebody’s passions and letting them learn school through them. The current literacy practice of just-right reading is not paying off for some middle school students. Maybe the intervention is not reading more just-right reading books, but possibly letting students play a video game to interact and grow their reading skills. We won’t know if it works, until we give it a try!

Works Cited:

Gee, J. P. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (2nd ed.). New York: Palgrave.

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