Critical Thinking Theory & Video Games

As I mentioned earlier in the week, finishing up an article for College & Undergraduate Libraries on information literacy and critical thinking opened doors to understanding video game play as critical thinking. In addition to video games fitting the elements of critical thinking, there is additional support within critical thinking theory that connects to video games.

Hughes (2000) reduced the various educational benefits of critical thinking to four key gains:

  • Awareness of incomplete arguments
    • Gamers realize when their internal "arguments" and decisions are incomplete because they are unable to progress further in the game without a complete argument (often requiring additional information or items, puzzles, interactions with characters)
    • Example: I was unable to solve a puzzle The Legend of Zelda without a specific item and realized my "argument" and chosen path was incomplete without it
  • Challenge conclusions and beliefs
    • Well designed games often intentionally challenge the conclusions a player makes; the assumptions, decisions, and paths chosen by the player will be challenge not only in plot twists, but in twists of logic and game design that make a player question those choices
    • Carroll (2002) writes about how students face the developmental challenge of being able to move beyond their “one right answer ( p.68)” to consider the evidence and develop a reasoned conclusion. Video games challenge and break this concept of "one right answer" since there is often multiple paths through a game
    • Example: The choices a player makes in BioWare's Star Wars:KOTOR and their upcoming Mass Effect change the direction and story of the game
  • Develop a sense of intellectual worth
    • Players gain this intellectual worth by successfully solving the puzzles, quests, and stories; completing a challenge in a game can not only develop a gamer's sense of self-worth but also their intellectual worth
    • Example: Players investing over 80 - 100 hours in games like Final Fantasy XII, develop that sense of worth (and gain satisfaction) by completing the quests and story; I am currently over 45 hours into an old game on the GameBoy Advance that I've played on an off for over a year, but now all the logic puzzles are clear and I'm reaching the game's conclusion
  • Develop persuasive skills based evidence rather than feeling
    • Game players develop this evidence based persuasion both internally and externally; internally gamers use evidence gather throughout the game that persuade themselves to make internal choices; externally gamers are persuading their friends and other players about strategies and other gameplay related decisions
    • Game players are also in a position to persuade non-gamers and critics about the value of gaming (and specific games) based on evidence within the game(s) rather than on reactionary judgments
    • Example: Controversial games like the Grand Theft Auto series and Bully are lightening rods for critics, but age appropriate players of these games can provide evidence of GTA as a social satire or the social dynamics & consequences in Bully

Video Games do provide opportunities for players to develop and practice critical thinking skills. As librarians and educators we have the ability to use these developing skills to build a bridge (as David Warlick stated) from these gaming skills to educational and academic ones.

Hughes, W. (2000). Critical Thinking: An Introduction to Basic Skills (3rd ed.). Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press.
Carroll, L. A. (2002). Rehearsing New Roles : How College Students Develop as Writers. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

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