Games for change and transformative learning : an ethnographic case study

Podleschny, Nicole (2012) Games for change and transformative learning : an ethnographic case study. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis aims to contribute to a better understanding of how serious games/games for change function as learning frameworks for transformative learning in an educational setting. This study illustrates how the meaning-making processes and learning with and through computer gameplay are highly contingent, and are significantly influenced by the uncertainties of the situational context.

The study focuses on SCAPE, a simulation game that addresses urban planning and sustainability. SCAPE is based on the real-world scenario of Kelvin Grove Urban Village, an inner city redevelopment area in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The game is embedded within an educational program, and I thus account for the various gameplay experiences of different school classes participating in this program. The networks emerging from the interactions between students/players, educators, facilitators, the technology, the researcher, as well as the setting, result in unanticipated, controversial, and sometimes unintended gameplay experiences and outcomes.

To unpack play, transformative learning and games, this study adopts an ecological approach that considers the magic circle of gameplay in its wider context. Using Actor-Network Theory as the ontological lens for inquiry, the methods for investigation include an extensive literature review, ethnographic participant observation of SCAPE, as well as student and teacher questionnaires, finishing with interviews with the designers and facilitators of SCAPE. Altogether, these methods address my research aim to better understand how the heterogeneous actors engage in the relationships in and around gameplay, and illustrate how their conflicting understandings enable, shape or constrain the (transformative) learning experience.

To disentangle these complexities, my focus continuously shifts between the following modes of inquiry into the aims „h To describe and analyse the game as a designed artefact.

„h To examine the gameplay experiences of players/students and account for how these experiences are constituted in the relationships of the network.

„h To trace the meaning-making processes emerging from the various relations of players/students, facilitators, teachers, designers, technology, researcher, and setting, and consider how the boundaries of the respective ecology are configured and negotiated.

„h To draw out the implications for the wider research area of game-based learning by using the simulation game SCAPE as an example for introducing gameplay to educational settings.

Accounting in detail for five school classes, these accounts represent, each in its own right, distinct and sometimes controversial forms of engagement in gameplay. The practices and negotiations of all the assembled human and non-human actors highlight the contingent nature of gameplay and learning. In their sum, they offer distinct but by no means exhaustive examples of the various relationships that emerge from the different assemblages of human and non-human actors.

This thesis, hence, illustrates that game-based learning in an educational setting is accompanied by considerable unpredictability and uncertainty. As ordinary life spills and leaks into gameplay experiences, group dynamics and the negotiations of technology, I argue that overly deterministic assertions of the game¡¦s intention, as well as a too narrowly defined understanding of the transformative learning outcome, can constrain our inquiries and hinder efforts to further elucidate and understand the evolving uncertainties around game-based learning. Instead, this thesis posits that playing and transformative learning are relational effects of the respective ecology, where all actors are networked in their (partial) enrolment in the process of translation. This study thus attempts to foreground the rich opportunities for exploring how game-based learning is assembled as a network of practices.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 58142
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Banks, John A., Haseman, Bradley C., & Polson, Debra
Keywords: actor-network theory, computer games, ecology, education, play, game-based learning, games for change, serious games, game studies, magic circle, transformative learning, contingency, uncertainties
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 12 Mar 2013 02:03
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015 05:30

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