James Paul Gee’s 16 Principles for Good Game Based Learning


Image by Steve Wheeler.

James Paul Gee is often considered the godfather of Game Based Learning (GBL) thanks to his significant academic research on effective learning methods via video games. He wrote a paper called Good Video Games and Good Learning more than a decade ago that outlines 16 components critical to strong GBL. The essay can be found in his seminal book of the same title, now in its second edition.

Here are the 16 principles of good video-game based GBL outlined in his text.

1) Identity: Players build a sense of identity throughout the video game, either through direct input or an on-screen character they inherit.

2) Interaction: Communication occurs between the player and the game.

3) Production: Gamers help produce the story through some form of interaction, such as solving a puzzle or completing a level.

4) Risk Taking: Failing in a game holds few consequences in comparison to real life, empowering players to take risks.

5) Customized: Games usually offer a level of customization so that users can play — and succeed — at their competency level.

6) Agency: Players have control over the gaming environment.

7) Well-Ordered Problems: The gaming environment contains problems that naturally lead into one another, allowing a player’s mastery to grow and evolve.

8) Challenge and Consideration: Games offer a problem that challenges students’ assumed expertise.

9) Just in Time or On Demand: Players receive information as they need it, not before, which teaches them patience and perseverance and improves critical-thinking abilities

10) Situated Meanings: Students learn new vocabulary words by experiencing them within game situations.

11) Pleasantly Frustrating: The game should frustrate the student enough to challenge them but be easy enough that they believe and can overcome the problem(s) faced.

12) System Thinking: Games make players think in a bigger picture, not just individual actions taken, helping them see how the pieces fit or can be fitted together.

13) Explore, Think Laterally, Rethink Goals: Games force players to expand their situational knowledge and consider courses of action other than linear ones.

14) Smart Tools and Distributed Knowledge: In-game tools help students understand the world. Through using them, they gain confidence to share their knowledge with others.

15) Cross-Functional Teams: In multiplayer environments, players have different skills, forcing them to rely on each other—a needed soft skill for students.

16) Performance before Competence: Competency occurs through taking action in the game, reversing the typical model in which students are required to learn before being allowed to act.

What do you think of James Paul Gee’s 16 Principles of Good Video Games and Good Learning? How might you incorporate them into your teaching style and curriculum?