Editor's Note: James Paul Gee is one of the most respected voices in the game-based learning (GBL) community. His criticisms of the assessment-obsessed education culture is well-documented. In light of all his "serious" work--in the form of publications and keynote speeches--we invited him to share a few of his favorite games that get his fingers mashing on controllers and keyboards.
I am often asked when I give talks or interviews what my favorite games are. I have played a lot of games and I play each day, so the answer is hard. It is hard, too, because I have favorites in different categories and some favorites are due to the times and places I played them as much as the game by itself.
I started to play games when I was in my early fifties and cut my teeth on the first Deus Ex. It is a revered game now in part because of the brilliant way it mixed genres (Shooter and Role Play, or RPG). It had three different endings and you had to choose one--I chose to send the world back to small villages and exit the modern age of ruinous technology and top-down concentrated power.
System Shock 2 is on the list. It, too, is revered by many to this day. I still remember the delicious experience of vivid horror in a world where technology has gone rouge (sensing a theme here).
Nearly every gamer I know adored and adores the first Half-Life. After an explosion in a science lab leads to an alien invasion, the inestimable lab rat Gordon Freeman faces Armageddon with only a crowbar. The game redefined narrative in games with the most minimal narrative possible.
The first Portal was an illumination to me. It demonstrates what should be the heart and soul of any education in an outstanding video game. According to GameFAQs, “the game is designed to change the way players approach, manipulate, and surmise the possibilities in a given environment." This description of the game is a better vision statement than most schools and colleges have. The robot GlaDos (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System)--an artificial intelligence created by an evil tech company--is the funniest villain in any game. She rightly won NPC (non-playable character) of the year when the game came out.
When I started playing video games, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was already old. It is as good as it gets. It plays as well today as when it came out and will forever; it is a work of art. When you finish going through the massive castle, the whole world turns into its mirror image and you go through again.
I am a gamer and do not play “learning games” unless they are good games in their own right. My favorite is DragonBox, a delightfully fun game that shows you some of the core “game mechanics” behind algebra.
Right now I am playing Divinity: Original Sin. It is in neck to neck competition with Baldur’s Gate 2 for best RPG ever made, though nothing beats the miniature giant space hamster named “Boo” in BG2.