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Games and learning

Games and learning is a field of education research that studies what is learned by playing video games, and how the design principles, data and communities of video game play can be used to develop new learning environments. Video games create new social and cultural worlds – worlds that help people learn by integrating thinking, social interaction, and technology, all in service of doing things they care about. Computers and other technologies have already changed the way students learn. Integrating games into education has the potential to create new and more powerful ways to learn in schools, communities and workplaces. Games and learning researchers study how the social and collaborative aspects of video game play can create new kinds of learning communities. Researchers also study how the data generated by game play can be used to design the next generation of learning assessments.

The games and learning research world studies how new digital media tools shift the topic of education research from recalling and repeating information to being able to find it, evaluate it and use it compellingly at the right time and in the right context. Games and learning research explores how games and game communities can lead to 21st-century educational skills such as higher order thinking, the ability to solve complex problems, think independently, collaborate, communicate and apply digital tools to effectively gather information.

Research conducted by Shaffer, D., Squire, K., Halverson, R., & Gee, J. P. from the University of Wisconsin – Madison shows the educational and social benefits of digital games. Games do not need to be specifically geared towards education to be educational tools. Games can bring together ways of knowing, ways of doing, ways of being, and ways of caring. As John Dewey argued, schools are built on an obsession with facts. Students need to learn by doing, and with gaming, students can learn by doing something as a part of a larger community of people who share common goals and ways of achieving those common goals, making gaming a benefit for social reasons as well. Gaming has also changed the look of content-driven curriculum in schools. In content-driven media, people learn by being told and reflecting on what they are told. In gaming, game designers create digital environments and game levels that shape, facilitate and even teach problem solving.

  • Annetta, L. A., Minogue, J., Holmes, S. Y., & Cheng, M.-T. (2009). Investigating the impact of video games on high school students' engagement and learning about genetics. Computers and Education, 53(1), 74–85.
  • Barab, S. A., Scott, B., Siyahhan, S., Goldstone, R., IngramGoble, A., Zuiker, S., & Warrant, S. (2009). Transformational play as a curricular scaffold: Using videogames to support science education. Journal of Science Education and Technology 18, 305–320.
  • Barab, S. A., Zuiker, S., Warren, S., Hickey, D., Ingram-Goble, A., Kwon, E-J., Kouper, I., & Herring, S. C. (2007). Situationally embodied curriculum: Relating formalisms and contexts. Science Education, 91(5), 750–782.
  • Bergland, C. (2013) Video Gaming Can Increase Brain Size and Connectivity: Neuroscientists find that video gaming can have therapeutic cognitive benefits. Athlete's Way.
  • Cazden, C., Cope, B., Fairclough, N., & Gee, J.; et al. (1996). A pedogogy of multiliteracies; Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 1-14.
  • Clark, D, Tanner-Smith, E., Killingsworth, S., & Bellamy, S. (2013) Digital Games for Learning: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, (Executive Summary). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.
  • Clark, D. B., Nelson, B. C., Chang, H.-Y., Martinez-Garza, M., Slack, K., & D'Angelo, C. M. (2011). Exploring Newtonian mechanics in a conceptually-integrated digital game: Comparison of learning and affective outcomes for students in Taiwan and the United States. Computers & Education, 57(3), 2178–2195. doi:10.16/j.compedu.2011.05.007
  • Galas, C. (2006). Why Whyville? Learning and Leading with Technology, 34(6), 30–33.
  • Gee, J. P. (2000). Teenagers in New Times: A New Literacy Studies Perspective. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 43(5), 412–420.
  • Gee, J. P. (2010). Video Games: What They Can Teach Us About Audience Engagement. Nieman Reports, 52–54.
  • Gee, J. P. (2012). Digital Games and Libraries. Knowledge Quest-Participatory Culture and Learning, 41(1), 61–64.
  • Hickey, D., Ingram-Goble, A., & Jameson, E. (2009). Designing assessments and assessing designs in virtual educational environments. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18(2), 187–208.
  • Ketelhut, D. J., Dede, C., Clarke J., & Nelson, B. (2006). A multi-user virtual environment for building higher order inquiry skills in science. Paper presented at the 2006 AERA Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA. Available at
  • Klopfer, E., Osterweil, S., & Salen, K. (2009). Moving Learning Games Forward. Cambridge, MA: The Education Arcade.
  • Koster, R. (2004). A theory of fun for game design (1st ed.). Phoenix, AZ: Paraglyph Press.
  • McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York, NY: Penguin Press.
  • McQuiggan, S., Rowe, J., & Lester, J. (2008). The effects of empathetic virtual characters on presence in narrative centered learning environments. In Proceedings of the 2008 SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1511–1520), Florence, Italy.
  • Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. E. (2000). Engaging students in active learning: The case for personalized multimedia messages. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 724–733.
  • Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. E. (2004). Personalized messages that promote science learning in virtual environments. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 165–173.
  • National Research Council (Singer, S., Hilton, M. L., & Schweingruber, H. A., Eds.). (2005). America's lab report: Investigations in high school science. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  • Neulight, N., Kafai, Y. B., Kao, L., Foley, B., & Galas, C. (2007). Children's participation in a virtual epidemic in the science classroom: Making connections to natural infectious diseases. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 16(1), 47–58.
  • Salen, K., & Zimmerman, E. (2004). Rules of play: game design fundamentals. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Shaffer, D., Squire, K., Halverson, R., & Gee, J. P. (2005). Video Games and the Future of Learning. The Phi Delta Kappan, 87(2), 104–111.
  • Squire, K., Shree, D., & DeVane, B. (2008). Designing Centers of Expertise for Academic Learning Through Video Games. Theory Into Practice, 47, 240–251.
  • Squire, K., & Gaydos, M. (2012). Role playing games for scientific citizenship. Cultural Study of Science Education, 7, 821–844.
  • Squire, K. (2006). From Content to Context: Videogames as Designed Experience. Educational Researcher, 35(8), 19–29.
  • Squire, K. (2013). Video Game–Based Learning: An Emerging Paradigm for Instruction. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(1), 101-130.
  • International Society for Technology in Education:


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