The Ecology of Games

The Ecology of Games:  Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Ed. Katie Salen.  London:  MIT P, 2008.  Print.

By:  April Tanner

The Ecology of Games:  Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning is a collaborative work edited by Katie Salen that seeks to demonstrate the sociocultural value of games in the digital age. Salen considers gaming to be a comprehensive term which encompasses gaming practices, literacies, and activities across all platforms and spaces. The central goal of the collection is to answer questions regarding how youth engage and participate in games and gaming, how gaming literacies form, how gaming interacts with other forms of learning and social interactions, and how barriers that prevent participation in gaming can be identified and overcome.

Learning strategies in gaming are detailed in the first section of the collection with discussions on the function of design and learning in games, how videogames are integrated into everyday cultural situations, and game design to promote inclusion through adaptation to suit all levels of abilities.  The second section focuses on the relationship between education and entertainment through an examination of representations of culture and race in gaming by demonstrating which populations are playing games and for what reasons. The final section demonstrates different methods for acquiring digital literacy skills through the development of creativity in producing digital content. Four pedagogical approaches are outlined through case study evaluations of different forms of games in varying learning environments (both formal and informal) in order to encourage engagement in gaming activities and provide insight into which forms of digital literacies apply to different types of games. There are numerous concerns that work implicitly in the text, namely considerations of types of gaming, defining and valuing play as meaningful, and learning about gaming and learning through gaming.  These considerations gesture towards areas open for further inquiry and suggest opportunities for research in gaming and the digital humanities.

This collection of essays will be useful to members of scholarly, practical, and public communities. The research techniques and findings in each article throughout The Ecology of Games extend the existing knowledge base for scholars who may be completing their own projects on gaming. Each project creates space for more research as the conclusions suggest that their findings open the door for avenues of inquiry.

Practitioners in varying industries (game designers, teachers, occupational therapists, etc.) can make use of The Ecology of Games as a tool to enhance their personal work.  Game design is discussed throughout in relation to player engagement and in relation to accessibility and education.  James Paul Gee’s article “Learning and Games” and Amit Pitaru’s “E Is for Everyone:  The Case for Inclusive Game Design”, speak to issues of the nuances of game design.  Pedagogical methods and discussions of inclusivity in learning are detailed throughout the work and particularly in Mizuko Ito’s “Education vs. Entertainment:  A Cultural History of Children’s Software”, and Kurt Squire’s “Open-Ended Video Games:  A Model for Developing Learning for the Interactive Age”.  The practical aspects of game design creation and the relationship between interactive play and learning, provide insight for practitioners across multiple disciplines. Insights are included to give practitioners resources for making use of or creating inclusive games that are accessible to individuals with varying abilities.

Members of the public can interact with the collected essays as a way to enhance their own gaming experiences by exploring how each gaming platform develops skills in a unique way. Additionally, parents of differently-abled children will find learning suggestions through gaming that may benefit their children developmentally and socially. The Ecology of Games provides an accessible overview of gaming studies, as well as new research that is useful for extending the depth and variety of gaming scholarship.

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