Essential Readings

Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive games: the expressive power of video games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Bogost examines what he calls the “procedural rhetoric” of games, which refers to the persuasive features of game design. Basically, games persuade players to think in ways that conform to the game environment. For instance, Bogost cites a video game called “The McDonalds Game” in which players learn to become critical of McDonalds by managing its global operations and being forced to make decisions that maximize profits while harming workers, customers, and the environment.

de Frietas, S. (2006). Learning in immersive worlds: a review of game-based learning. JISC. Retrieved from

This report from the UK’s JISC E-Learning Programme offers a broad overview of digital games-based learning through the mid-2000s. It features a review of the literature and includes case studies and examples from multiple disciplines. While the focus is primarily on K-12 education, the topics and themes discussed are relevant to games-based learning in general.

Gee, J.P. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (Rev. and updated ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Originally published in 2003, this book by Gee, a former sociolinguist, is acknowledged to have launched the contemporary academic field of game-based learning. The book explores 36 valuable learning principles embodied by successful commercial video games. Each chapter covers a different set of learning principles and features a different commercial video game to instantiate the principles.

Gee, J.P. (2005). Good Video Games and Good Learning. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85(2), 33-37. Retrieved from

A redaction of Gee’s book-length study of learning principles. Commonly available on the internet. Highly recommended as a starting point for people new to the field.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6. Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Argues that today’s students are “digital natives” who are more comfortable using multi-modal, multi-task, hyper-text technology than students from the previous generation, whom he calls “digital immigrants.” Therefore, he argues that our ways of teaching must change to suit students’ changing learning styles.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 2. On the Horizon, 9(6), 1-9. Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part2.pdf

Continues the discussion from part one, but focuses more on the cognitive science research that supports game-based learning.

Salen, K. and Zimmerman, E. (2003). Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals.

A leading source for understanding and designing games by game gurus Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen.  The authors identify a series of eighteen “game design schemas” that describe the key concepts, strategies, and elements needed to create innovative, meaningful games.

Shaffer, D.W. (2005). Epistemic games. Innovate, 1(6), 1-6. Retrieved from

Shaffer argues that video games can be used to teach students how to think and operate in a discipline, what he calls the “episteme” of a discipline. For instance, he gives the example of an urban planning game that teaches students how to think like urban planners.

Shaffer, D.W. (2008). How computer games help children learn. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

In this book, Shaffer expands on his idea of “epistemic gaming.” He begins by taking on popular misconceptions about video gaming (that it harms children), instead arguing that video games improve educational success and are essential for training tomorrow’s professionals. Each chapter cites a different video game and shows how it prepares students to enter a particular profession.

Shaffer, D. W., Squire, K. R., Halverson, R., & Gee, James P. (2005). Video Games and The Future of Learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(2), 105-111.

This article from leading game scholars and researchers advocates for a theory of learning to guide the construction of educational video games.  They believe in an approach to game design, and learning more generally, that is grounded in personal meaning, experience, social interaction, and epistemology.

Squire, K. & Jenkins, H. (2004). Harnessing the power of games in education. Insight (3)1, 5-33. Retrieved from

Squire and Jenkins compare video game technology today to television technology in the 50s and argue that video games can restore America’s competitive edge in educational achievement.

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