Immersion in epistemic games

Yesterday I finished reading How Computer Games Help Children Learn. I can now offer a balanced critique. David Shaffer uses the concept of "epistemic frames" differently from the approach I use in mentoring entrepreneurs. I've revealed some of my perspective in previous posts: Getting framed by epistemic frames and Positions at the table. The thought leaders of my approach include Gregory Bateson (Mind and Nature) Bradford Keeney (Aesthetics of Change) and Paul Watzlawick (Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution). My "coach approach" with entrepreneurs includes "reframing the problem", "correcting flawed epistemologies", and "getting framed by the contextualizing nature of questions".

In the last chapter, Shaffer cleared up my confusion. He contrasts epistemic games with GOD games where the player is all powerful and unopposed. He sees value in the political context of professional conduct. He sees authentic learning occurring when the solution meets opposition and requires understanding other perspectives, tradeoffs and agendas. He finds the playing to be more immersive and the value applying to more contexts when the games are "epistemic" in his sense of the word. I totally agree with his message.

I believe his book would be more readable and useful if the last chapter came first. His sequence did not hold me in suspense or deliver a punch line. Also, rather than use the concept of "epistemic games", his message would come across more clearly if he used concepts like: assuming a complete identity, facing the interpersonal challenges of professional conduct, deploying a new skillset within a politicized context or playing the part of a street smart operative.

His book explores numerous games that develop knowledge, skills and values emergently. The numerous empirical studies of outcomes can help convince skeptics. I'm encouraged by his findings. I realize David Shaffer operates in an academic context. My suggestions to rearrange the book and change the wording -- would weaken his academic legitimacy while increasing his applicability for designers of immersive eLearning experiences. Perhaps the book that is more useful for designers will be written by designers.


  1. You're right in that it's not really written for designers and the title is misleading. To me, it seems to more about educational reform.

  2. Thanks Harold.
    Between our two critiques, the book has been put in a valid context of "limited usefulness"