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Video Games and Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age

reviewed by Carlo Maiolini - October 20, 2011

coverTitle: Video Games and Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age
Author(s): Kurt Squire
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807751987, Pages: 312, Year: 2011
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Kurt Squires Video Games and Learning is an important book about video games and learning. The books title can lead one to think of a specialist piece of work about complex cognitive processes underlying learning in digital environments; Squires book is, however, more than this. Its purpose is indeed more general, and I believe that in Video Games and Learning we got at least three books in one: the game studies theoretical text, the social studies text about digital communities, and the learning theory research book.

The authors main goal is suggesting ways to improve the U.S.s (like other parts of the world) educational system, so that it can stand the tide of the huge changes society is facing because of the spread of the digital media and the availability of computing resources. To this end, Squire leads the reader through game studies theory (e.g. Gee, 2005) situated learning theory (Lave and Wegner, 1991), and empirical data he and his colleagues collected throughout several years of research. He does this with a passionate writing style that makes the reading a very pleasant one. I encountered only little problems with the work, which I will highlight later.

I found very original, well structured and stimulating, all the parts in which experimentation with games in schools are described (chapters 5 and 6). Moreover, I particularly appreciated the theoretical insights proposed on the parallelisms between apparently distant works like Sid Meierss Civilization and Jared Diamonds Collapse (chapter 6) and the careful description of one of the more interesting learning phenomenon of the digital worlds: the possibility to be at the same time and in the same (cyber) space, leader, teacher, student and author (chapter 7).

Another well-developed part of the book is Squires elaboration on the concept of performance before mastery (Gee, 2007), which is, in my opinion the key to the whole book and to Squires view about innovative learning in the digital era.  (This concept is introduced in chapter 7, but developed at the end of the book in chapters 8, 9 and 10). The whole book indeed proposes to focus education on well designed learning experiences. (Squire, 2011, p. ix) Video games are only an example that Squire uses to illustrate how favorable it could be to adopt a situated, embodied, problem-based learning (ibid.) in opposition to the actual, one size fits all school curricula.

Finally, I found particularly useful for anyone working in the educational field, the books coda, about methodological issues in the result assessment of educational research. The game studies scholars could perhaps find the game theory part at the beginning of the book a little bit too superficial. For a more detailed theoretical text on why video games are good learning tools, other readings, such as Ian Bogosts Persuasive Games (2007), are better suited. The digital communities scholars, will recognize many concepts from well-known books like Convergence Culture (Jenkins, 2006). But beside these two specific audiences, Video Games and Learning always provides the just in time knowledge necessary to comprehend the authors argumentation on how digital cultures are bringing a revolution in the way we conceive and implement learning.

I also found that Squires opinion towards digital communities participatory potential is maybe a little too optimistic, and many features that he considers belonging to game communities are not unique to them, and can be found in many other affinity spaces (Gee, 2005) such as fandoms, collectors communities etc. (Ito, et al., 2009). Additionally, I think concepts like game, simulation, and augmented reality could be defined a little bit more extensively throughout the book. I especially think that non-specialist readers (in my opinion, the books main audience) would have received a great benefit from more detailed explanations of concepts.  

In conclusion, I highly recommend Videogames and Learning to teachers, especially those interested in concepts like education as participation (and not preparation), informal learning, and adaptable curricula: The book provides strong arguments to sustain these approaches, and - more importantly - gives practical tools and guidelines to pursue them in different formal and informal contexts like schools, museums, and community groups.


Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Gee, J. (2005). Why Video Games are Good for Your Soul: Pleasure and Learning. Melbourne: Common Ground.

Gee, J. (2007). Good video games and good learning: Collected essays on video games, learning, and literacy-New literacies and digital epistemiologie. New York: Peter Lang.

Ito, M., Horst, H., Bittanti, M., Boyd, D., Herr-Stephenson, B., Lange, P., et al. (2009). Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. Cambridge: MIT Press

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: where old and new media collide. New York: NYU Press.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Squire, K. (2011). Video Games and Learning: Teaching and Participatory Culture in the Digital Age. New York: Teachers College Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 20, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16565, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 9:33:17 AM

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About the Author
  • Carlo Maiolini
    Museum of Sciences of Trento, Italy
    E-mail Author
    CARLO MAIOLINI holds a Master Degree in Biological Sciences, achieved with an experimental thesis on Social Facilitation. In 2005 he obtained a specialization degree in Environmental Communication at University of Pisa. He started to work for the Museum of Sciences of Trento, Italy (MUSE) in 2000 as an explainer, and since then he focused his interests on informal education, working in exhibit design and project management, especially in the field of digital interactive artefacts for informal learning.
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