Videogames and Complexity Theory: Learning through Game Play


  • Kathy Sanford University of Victoria
  • Tim Hopper University of Victoria


The rich virtual worlds of videogames create powerful contexts for learning. In game worlds, as discussed by Shaffer, Halverson, Squire, and Gee (2004), “learners can understand complex concepts without losing the connection between abstract ideas and the real problems they can be used to solve” (p.5). Games are most powerful – and most complex – when they are “personally meaningful, experiential, social, and epistemological all at the same time” (Shaffer et al, 2004, p.3). In this paper we will suggest how complexity theory (Davis & Sumara, 2006; Waldrop, 1992) provides a framework that enabling us to understand learning as a complex and emergent process, an ongoing fluid relationship between personal knowing and collective knowledge as a learner/player observes and acts in the observed world. Learning skills in games becomes a process of ‘perception-action coupling’ (Chow et al., 2007; W. E. Davis & Broadhead, 2007; Renshaw, Davids, Shuttleworth, & Chow, 2008), where players’ capacity to understand game play and to act effectively is enabled through interaction in the game, discussion with other players, and prior understandings. As learners adapt to the perceived world in a self-organizing process, they develop a better relational connection to the perceived world, their task goals, and the actions and goals of others.






Foundations and Frames