Foundations of Games and Learning

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de Castell and Jenson

de Castell and Jenson (2003) provide a critical examination of the discourse around education and games, outlining common academic perspectives and emphasizing that researchers tend to not participate in gaming culture, overlooking the cultural context of gaming and thus gaming’s educational potentialities. Next, the authors discuss what education can learn from commercial gaming and how educators have attempted to leverage games for education, pointing out how “education’s restrictive lock-step linear developmental progression within a purportedly game-like environment makes immersion impossible” (p. 658). Finally, de Castell and Jenson investigate how play and education can intersect, arguing that effective educational games can be designed, but that a cultural paradigm shift is needed in education to allow such games to be seen as legitimate learning activities.

Although de Castell and Jenson describe how educational games can be built, they do not explore if changes are needed in teacher training to enable teachers to build games, and may underestimate the difficulty of subverting stubbornly resilient education systems. 18 years later, the article holds up unfortunately well; the paradigm shift away from testing and tracking required in education has not come, but many schools have become more accepting of technology, free game building engines have become increasingly available and robust, and tracking protocols have developed allowing games to communicate with learning management systems—despite these advances, most teachers do not build learning games or have opportunities to practice doing so in their professional work. It would be interesting to investigate which barriers to teacher-game-designers are most relevant in 2021.

The de Castell and Jenson article concludes by asking what it might mean to “create and sustain an educational gaming culture” (p. 662), taking this a step further I wonder what de Castell and Jenson’s ideal educational gaming culture looks like two decades from now and what improvements do they realistically see possible?


Squire argues that digital gaming is a literacy practice whereby expertise is developed through the complex meaning-making and problem solving in simulated worlds and their participatory communities, and that digital gaming literacies are becoming increasingly important for educators to understand. Squire describes games as artifacts, reviewing academic perspectives on games as potentially transformative spaces blending narratology and play before discussing the social practice of gaming, exploring the significance of participatory communities created around games and their ability to facilitate the development of liminal and affinity spaces. Finally, Squire discusses the implications of digital gaming literacies for education, pointing to studies on the potential of games and acknowledging limitations and barriers.

Lack of funding is an endless challenge for public schools and Squire states that “the idea of using games in education may be passing from an opportunity to an imperative” (p. 45), if this is true, then digital games literacy is of importance to all industries and sectors which could lead to creative funding opportunities or partnerships. 

Squire discusses a variety of approaches for developing game literacy with students and briefly talks about the lack of games literacy among researchers, but I am left wondering how public school teachers will build digital games literacy? 


Squires as well as de Castell and Jenson agree that culture and communities around games are important sites of learning, and that education and gaming can and should be more effectively integrated and intentionally designed together to benefit students. They differ in their focus and path forward, with de Castell and Jenson hinting that systemic cultural change is needed in education while Squire seems to describe a more gradual and inevitable shift taking place over time.


de Castell, S. & Jenson, J. (2003). Serious Play. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35, 6, 649-666.

Squire, K. (2005).  Video game literacy: A literacy of expertise.

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