Good Games and Good Learning: Content versus Determinism

Posted: November 3, 2011 in Books, Gamer Theory
Tags: , , , ,
Five Rupee Coin

Two sides to every coin

The third essay from Good Video Games and Good Learning (New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies) has the rather intimidating title Notes on Content and Technological Determinism. In this essay Dr. Gee breaks apart two keys to a game that even a casual player might not realize are seperate entities. It comes down to the difference between how you are interacting with the game world and what you as a player are actually doing.

It’s easier to give an example than it is to explain. Let’s go with the non-digital example of Dungeons and Dragons. The content of the game is that you and your fellow adventurers are traveling the world and fighting monsters for fabulous treasure and reputation. The determinism is problem solving, making calculations based on your dice rolls, and coordinating strategies with your fellow players.

Content is easy to focus on because until interactive games of this nature came around, there was no determinism in entertainment. Books, movies, TV shows, and all but the most experimental of theater did not engage their audiance in this way. Determinism is what pings our most primal human drives of exploration, puzzle solving, learning experiences, and such. Determinism is what makes a game a game, and not a movie.

As a funny aside, earlier this summer I was involved in a huge number-crunching accounting project. For almost 72 hours straight, with very little sleep, I took the numbers from sheet one and compared them to the numbers on sheet two. I had to work hand in hand with another person and we refined our strategy for how these numbers should compare. After we met the deadline and I got everything bundled up and mailed out, I had just enough time to grab a few hours sleep before taking off to play Dungeons and Dragons with my friends. Where I spent the next eight hours comparing the numbers on my sheet of paper and dice to the numbers on the Dungeon Master’s paper and dice.

Content may not be king, but it certainly does matter.

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