In an era where the use of technology is becoming ubiquitous in education and where game based learning is actively promoted as a way of deploying technology for pedagogical purposes, De Castell (2015) strikes a very apropos cautionary note about the inherent challenges in some forms of game-based learning. De Castell (2015) states that among the most powerful DIY projects today is the manufacture of game-based worlds but that the impacts of these worlds are often overlooked by gamers who through their customized “avatars” play in these worlds (De Castell, 2015, p. 213). Through the course of the chapter, De Castell points to some of the challenges including but not limited to lack of civic engagement, representation of identity in prescribed form and a lack of legal and ethical restraints that reduce harm. De Castell (2015) calls for accountable design in the creation of these gaming worlds and cautions against building a false real/virtual world argument against letting these challenges be ignored (De Castell, 2015, pp. 219-220).
De Castell’s warning found resonance with me in terms of looking at identity formation, and the socialization of students as responsible active citizens that we seek to achieve as educators. Firstly, in terms of identity I believe that it is important for students to have a choice and be comfortable in how they seek to represent themselves. Being exposed to environments in which the choices of self-representation are restricted for commercial purposes has the risk of negative transfer wherein students may come to accept that that only prescribed forms of representation are acceptable and that anything else outside of these “norms” would be inappropriate or even taboo. This would create barriers, leads to repression and encourages stereotypes in student identity formation and behaviour. Secondly, the goal of education is to develop well-rounded, socially responsible, critical thinking citizens. Facilitating exposure to environments in which there are no rules of civil or ethical behaviour would, in a sense, give tacit permission to students that such behaviour is acceptable. To resort to the argument that they are able to distinguish between real and virtual worlds is somewhat tenuous what should be actively encouraged as De Castell states are that the worlds that students inhabit are created in a way that foster the rules of civilized society and active civic engagement. Kudos to De Castell for pointing out the dangers and challenges that lie in some forms of game-based learning, and alerting educators to the same.
De Castelle, S. (2015). Mirror Images: Avatar Aestheticsand Self-Representation in Digital Games. In Matt Ratto & Megan Boler (Eds.), DIY Citizenship (pp. 213-222). Cambridge: MIT.
Daraius M. Bharucha is a history educator and Department Head of History at Bill Crothers Secondary School. Daraius is also a student at UOIT in the M.Ed. in Digital Technology Program.