Essential Readings


Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive games: the expressive power of video games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bogost examines what he calls the “procedural rhetoric” of games, which refers to the persuasive features of game design. Basically, games persuade players to think in ways that conform to the game environment. For instance, Bogost cites a video game called “The McDonalds Game” in which players learn to become critical of McDonalds by managing its global operations and being forced to make decisions that maximize profits while harming workers, customers, and the environment.

Bogost, I. (2011). How To Do Things With Videogames. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Videogames are a type of media, and this book considers the many, varied ways that videogames have been, are, and could be used and integrated into our lives. The book consists of of 20 short essays in which Bogost examines individual themes that videogames can address or incorporate. Each essay includes multiple examples of games that address the theme, some more successfully and some less, and invites the reader to consider how these themes might be addressed in the future.

Gee, J.P. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (Rev. and updated ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Originally published in 2003, this book by Gee, a former sociolinguist, is acknowledged to have launched the contemporary academic field of game-based learning. The book explores 36 valuable learning principles embodied by successful commercial video games. Each chapter covers a different set of learning principles and features a different commercial video game to instantiate the principles.

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Penguin, NY.
Read Games Network Steering Committee member Carlos Hernandez’s nuanced review of this book.

Salen, K. and Zimmerman, E. (2003). Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals.
A leading source for understanding and designing games by game gurus Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen. The authors identify a series of eighteen “game design schemas” that describe the key concepts, strategies, and elements needed to create innovative, meaningful games.

Salen, K. and Zimmerman, E. (2001). Game Design Reader.
The Game Design Reader is a one-of-a-kind collection on game design and criticism, from classic scholarly essays to cutting-edge case studies. A companion work to Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman’s textbook Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, The Game Design Reader is a classroom sourcebook, a reference for working game developers, and a great read for game fans and players.

Shaffer, D.W. (2008). How computer games help children learn. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
In this book, Shaffer expands on his idea of “epistemic gaming.” He begins by taking on popular misconceptions about video gaming (that it harms children), instead arguing that video games improve educational success and are essential for training tomorrow’s professionals. Each chapter cites a different video game and shows how it prepares students to enter a particular profession.

Sutton-Smith, B. (2001). The Ambiguity of Play. Cambrigde, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sutton-Smith focuses on play theories rooted in seven distinct “rhetorics”—the ancient discourses of Fate, Power, Communal Identity, and Frivolity and the modern discourses of Progress, the Imaginary, and the Self. In a sweeping analysis that moves from the question of play in child development to the implications of play for the Western work ethic, he explores the values, historical sources, and interests that have dictated the terms and forms of play put forth in each discourse’s “objective” theory.


de Frietas, S. (2006). Learning in immersive worlds: a review of game-based learning. JISC. Retrieved from
This report from the UK’s JISC E-Learning Programme offers a broad overview of digital games-based learning through the mid-2000s. It features a review of the literature and includes case studies and examples from multiple disciplines. While the focus is primarily on K-12 education, the topics and themes discussed are relevant to games-based learning in general.

Gee, J.P. (2005). Good Video Games and Good Learning. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85(2), 33-37. Retrieved from
A consolitation of Gee’s book-length study of learning principles. Highly recommended as a starting point for those new to the field.

Shaffer, D.W. (2005). Epistemic games. Innovate, 1(6), 1-6. Retrieved from
Shaffer argues that video games can be used to teach students how to think and operate in a discipline, what he calls the “episteme” of a discipline. For instance, he gives the example of an urban planning game that teaches students how to think like urban planners.

Shaffer, D. W., Squire, K. R., Halverson, R., & Gee, James P. (2005). Video Games and The Future of Learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(2), 105-111.
This article from leading game scholars and researchers advocates for a theory of learning to guide the construction of educational video games. They believe in an approach to game design, and learning more generally, that is grounded in personal meaning, experience, social interaction, and epistemology.

Squire, K. & Jenkins, H. (2004). Harnessing the power of games in education. Insight (3)1, 5-33. Retrieved from

Squire and Jenkins compare video game technology today to television technology in the 50s and argue that video games can restore America’s competitive edge in educational achievement.

Educators coming together to explore how the principles of games promote learning