Games and Learning

Curtis, Vivian and Jim. What do they all have in common? Pokémon!

Since playing the Pokémon video game for my individual play session back in cycle 4, I’ve logged over 13 hours in the game. This prompted me to find some research regarding Pokémon and learning for this cycle’s critique. Surprisingly, there isn’t a whole lot of research available around the Pokémon video game. I narrowed my search down to two readings: Jim Gee’s chapter 2 of his book “Situated Language and Learning” and an article by Vivian Vasquez titled “What Pokémon can Teach us about Learning and Literacy”. I decided to use the latter since we had already read quite of bit of Jim Gee’s work in our course.

This article outlines a journey the the author takes with her nephew (Curtis) in exploring the world of the Pokémon trading card game (TCG). She details how Curtis was introduced to the TCG, and how he immediately made a connection with the television show. She goes on to explain his learning of the game, through the initial plays to the creation of an affinity space with his friends that allows him to expand his knowledge and creativity by learning in a group and creating his own Pokémon cards and soliciting feedback from his peers. Dr. Vasquez ends her article with associating Curtis’ learning to Jim Gee’s principles of learning (so I did end up getting my fill of Jim Gee anyway!).

Throughout the article Dr. Vasquez outlines learning theories and instructional design techniques that Curtis is, unbeknownst, using in his acquisition of knowledge. He uses multimodal ways to enhance his understanding of the game (using videos, articles and print materials), he practices what he’s learned by teaching it to others which allows him to deepen his own learning, learn about his limitations and the limitations of others and forms a group (affinity group) to learn collaboratively with his friends. Curtis even becomes a “designer” when he creates his own Pokémon card, his interpretation of an evolution of one of the basic Pokémon cards. He chose everything about this card, from the health points the character had to how the new creature looked, including its background in the picture.

The one thing that surprised me about this article was Dr. Vasquez’s lack of analysing her own learning in this situation. Not once does she mention ever playing the game with Curtis to gauge how her understanding of the game has improved. She writes of learning the Pokémon literacy, but even then I feel that her knowledge of the details is lacking. For example, she mentions the “symbol for what are known as “mysterious” Pokémon that possess psychic abilities” (p. 122), except that these Pokémon aren’t categorized as “mysterious”, but simply as “psychic” Pokémon. This lack of understanding could be because of the way her nephew explained it to her or just a simple lack of comprehension. I understand that her own learning was not the purpose of her observations and this paper, but I feel that it would have been an interesting addition.

I agreed with almost everything that Dr. Vasquez says in her analysis of Gee’s principles of learning except for one. In his book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, Gee’s principle number 7, Committed Learning Principle states that “Learners participate in an extended engagement (lots of effort and practice) as extensions of their real-world identities in relation to a virtual identity to which they feel some commitment and a virtual world that they find compelling.”(p.67). I have no doubt that Curtis achieved this, but Dr. Vasquez likened this to a Pokémon trainer: “Curtis took on the role of Pokémon trainer as he created and designed his own cards” (p.124). Pokémon trainers to not “create” Pokémon, they find them, catch them and train them. They build relationships with their Pokémon, which allows (sometimes) for evolution and better rewards (in the video game). This again, could be the author’s lack of understanding of the intricacies of the game.

There is still a few questions I have about this observation. Was she in the room while he played the game? How did his surroundings affect how he played / created / developed in the game? Was there any tension in the affinity group that he created? Maybe now that Curtis is a little older he can work on a follow up article with his aunt.

Side Note:

The author of the piece also mentions how Pokémon has become quite the phenomenon, even one of the characters (Pikachu) having it’s own balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Since the article was published the phenomenon has gotten even larger and attracted the attention of the medical scientific community; a proto-oncogene was named ‘Pokémon’ for it’s ability to mutate or transform (oncogenes are cells that can transform into tumors). This was unfavorable to the Pokémon brand, but shows just how popular it has become.


Vasquez, V. (2003). What Pokémon can teach us about learning and literacy.Language Arts, 81(2), 118-125.

Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Computers in Entertainment (CIE), 1(1), 20-20.

Oncogene. (n.d.). Retrieved April 03, 2016, from


Feature Image by: Minh Hoang, used under CC licence 2.0.

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