Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Book Review: Digital Game-Based Learning

Title: Digital Game-Based Learning

Author: Marc Prensky

Publisher: NY: McGraw-Hill (2001)

I read this a while ago, but was so overwhelmed by the amount of notes I took that I haven't typed them up. I'm going to condense what I originally wrote. This is a very long book, over 400 pages, but jam-packed with useful information. No wonder it's one of the most cited books in the field. It is oriented towards games in the world of business training, but still focuses on games and learning.

Studies show that fun in the learning process not only makes it more enjoyable, but also more effective. While we're still learning how people learn, almost everyone agrees that engagement is an important part of the process. Datillo & Kleber (1993), Hastie (1994), Middleton, Littlefield, and Lehrer (1992) all show how fun increases motivation for learners. When a person is having a good time, they are biologically more alert and memory is stimulated.

Six key elements of games:
  1. Rules
  2. Goals/objectives
  3. Outcomes/feedback
  4. Conflict/competition/challenge/opposition
  5. Interaction
  6. Representation or story (it stimulates emotions)

Video games & other technologies have deeply and physiologically changed how younger generations learn. We no longer learn linearly; our brains are programmed for speed; we are image-focused; lack patience if payoffs don't come quickly enough; see real-life (work) similar to games (achievement, winning, beating competitors).

While our brains have changed, our education system hasn't. Current models focus on content and use the tell-test method. Younger generations see themselves as doers and creators rather than empty receptacles for content. Why have things not changed? Partly money, partly because we don't really understand what's needed, partly because of a it-sort-of-works-so-doesn't-need-fixed attitude.

Game formats with the widest appeal include detective games, adventure, puzzle and strategy games. The hardest thing to build into a game is reflection and critical thinking, which can be built into an instructor-led debriefing after the actual game. As is stated in other posts, educational games need to strive for fun first and content second.

Having outrageous and humorous examples and options in games are important when striving for fun.

Examples mentioned in book:

There is a lot more to get out of this book, but I wanted to boil it down to the best highlights for the sake of this post.


  1. I'm really, really excited that you are posting your book reviews. I'm hoping to help librarians studying games to start an annotated bibliography. You are way ahead of me so far, this is great stuff!

    My main experience w/ Prensky is that he's *really* into hyperbole. That is to say, he gets so excited about ideas that he makes huge claims that go beyond the supporting data and leave me feeling much more skeptical and doubtful about his conclusions than if he just stuck to the data in the first place. I haven't read this book, and you mention that it is a seminal work, but I've been avoiding his stuff since everything of his I've read makes me want to dismiss games and learning as snake oil.

  2. I've read "Don't Bother Me Mom: I'm Learning" back in 06 as I was just getting into gaming and learning. It was good introduction of ideas but outside of that it was limited. I've read a number of Prensky's articles, heard him speak at GLLS 08, and attended a webinar of his recent ideas a few months ago. And my hesitations are close to Nickolas' thoughts.

    My concerns with Prensky are that his ideas with gaming have not evolved. I believe the dialog on games and learning has gone well beyond his initial steps and others have written more completely about it. Prensky is a "futurist" and I'll give him credit for getting out in front of gaming & learning. But in my opinion he's since been passed by.

    Good write ups though. You are covering some core texts.