As contemporary societies continue to integrate digital technologies into varying aspects of everyday life—including work, schooling, and play—the concept of digital game-based learning (DGBL) has become increasingly influential. The term DGBL is often used to characterize the relationship of computer-based games (including games played on dedicated gaming consoles and mobile devices) to various learning processes or outcomes. The concept of DGBL has its origins in interdisciplinary research across the computational and social sciences, as well as the humanities. As interest in computer games and learning within the field of education began to expand in the late 20th century, DGBL became somewhat of a contested term. Even foundational concepts such as the definition of games (as well as their relationship to simulations and similar artifacts), the affordances of digital modalities, and the question of what “counts” as learning continue to spark debate among positivist, interpretivist, and critical framings of DGBL. Other contested areas include the ways that DGBL should be assessed, the role of motivation in DGBL, and the specific frameworks that should inform the design of games for learning. Scholarship representing a more positivist view of DGBL typically explores the potential of digital games as motivators and influencers of human behavior, leading to the development of concepts such as gamification and other uses of games for achieving specified outcomes, such as increasing academic measures of performance, or as a form of behavioral modification. Other researchers have taken a more interpretive view of DGBL, framing it as a way to understand learning, meaning-making, and play as social practices embedded within broader contexts, both local and historical. Still others approach DGBL through a more critical paradigm, interrogating issues of power, agency, and ideology within and across applications of DGBL. Within classrooms and formal settings, educators have adopted four broad approaches to applying DGBL: (a) integrating commercial games into classroom learning; (b) developing games expressly for the purpose of teaching educational content; (c) involving students in the creation of digital games as a vehicle for learning; and (d) integrating elements such as scoreboards, feedback loops, and reward systems derived from digital games into non-game contexts—also referred to as gamification. Scholarship on DGBL focusing on informal settings has alternatively highlighted the socially situated, interpretive practices of gamers; the role of affinity spaces and participatory cultures; and the intersection of gaming practices with the lifeworlds of game players. As DGBL has continued to demonstrate influence on a variety of fields, it has also attracted criticism. Among these critiques are the question of the relative effectiveness of DGBL for achieving educational outcomes. Critiques of the quality and design of educational games have also been raised by educators, designers, and gamers alike. Interpretive scholars have tended to question the primacy of institutionally defined approaches to DGBL, highlighting instead the importance of understanding how people make meaning through and with games beyond formal schooling. Critical scholars have also identified issues in the ethics of DGBL in general and gamification in particular as a form of behavior modification and social control. These critiques often intersect and overlap with criticism of video games in general, including issues of commercialism, antisocial behaviors, misogyny, addiction, and the promotion of violence. Despite these criticisms, research and applications of DGBL continue to expand within and beyond the field of education, and evolving technologies, social practices, and cultural developments continue to open new avenues of exploration in the area.
Earl Aguilera and Roberto de Roock
In the context of increasing realizations of the fragility of democracy, the possibilities and accomplishments of youth activist projects across material and virtual spaces and sites continue to flourish. Research on this work is situated in the rich scholarly traditions of critical youth studies and critical youth literacies as well as in theories of civic engagement, public pedagogy, participatory politics, cosmopolitanism, and relational mobilities. Many youth projects draw on the resources of arts, digital media, and critical multiliteracies to participate, in material ways, in public and political life. Taking up issues such as citizenship for immigrant youth, homelessness, and poverty, young people powerfully create critical, social, and political narratives that resonate within and beyond their own communities. Theorizing this work in relation to public engagement, spatiality, and mobilities deepens our understanding of those moments when youth in community and educational sites create powerful transmediated counter-narratives about their lives and worlds—the ways they incorporate both local and global understandings to create these new forms of political participation. And the work itself underscores the need for more equitable access to various multimodal and digital resources and the importance of youth access to public and mediated spaces. Schools and educators are called to create pedagogical spaces that invite students’ subjectivities, locations, and creative uses of material resources to engage in local and larger public dialogues, counter dominant cultural ideologies, address multiple publics, and create new forms of political participation.