Open Access
Patton, Ryan Matthew
Graduate Program:
Art Education
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 23, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Karen Treat Keifer Boyd, Dissertation Advisor
  • Karen Treat Keifer Boyd, Committee Chair
  • Charles Richard Garoian, Committee Member
  • Matthew Kenyon, Committee Member
  • Brian K Smith, Committee Member
  • pedagogy
  • art
  • art education
  • video games
  • games
  • complexity theory
Having computer skills, let alone access to a personal computer, has become a necessary component of contemporary Western society and many parts of the world. Digital media literacy involves youth being able to view, participate in, and make creative works with technologies in personal and meaningful ways. Games, defined in this study as structured play, provided the foundation for many of the works from 20th century art movements, such as Dadaism, Surrealism, Situationism, and Fluxus. I argue that these artists used games as methods to explore and expose rules and systems in ways of understanding the world through art. I describe how these artworks embodied complexity thinking in their use of game making methods to expose social, political, economic, and environmental systems. The game-based art pedagogy derived from this art history, also draws from the features of game-like unit operations (Bogost, 2006), strategies and tactics (de Certeau, 1997), and infinite play (Carse, 1987) to foster a critical aesthetic. Complexity thinking (or complexity theory), represents a way for constructing meaning that involves the integration of multiple types of systems, including dynamic models, closed-looped systems, and the ability to transfer one model of a system to another situation or phenomenon. Emergent behavior is supported in the complex systems modeled in video games such as SimCity and Civilization. Much of game-based art pedagogy research centers on students learning by playing games. Learning history or other factual data in the form of games has value, however using games in this way does not encapsulate games as an artistic medium for creative purposes, only as a means for teaching. That is, while students created video games in a variety of classroom environments over the last fifteen years, typically it was done to learn subjects like math, computer science, or to develop language skills. In my action research study, I began with the premise based on my prior teaching experience, that video game creation was an attainable goal by youth, and a valuable studio project in the art classroom to understand complexity in social systems, and learn an art history of games as artworks. I recruited youth (ages of 8-13) and taught them how to make games in four iterations of a game creation course. The make-up of the courses comprised one class of middle school girls, two classes of elementary school children, and one class of middle school boys and girls. Each class met during a five-day course, learning concepts and methods of game development by playing and making physical, board, and video games. New curricular elements for the research included a physical game activity, a mobile game using 2-D barcodes, a tabletop game connecting the video game instruction, and game cards written as independent programmable unit operations. Students made video games that used the concepts of move, avoid, release, and contact (MARC) as a method I designed for exploring complexity thinking. I observed and recorded the participants’ game making process; collected their games, journals, and pre and post surveys; and from these observations and feedback, I reviewed and revised the curriculum for each class. I interviewed the other course instructors who used the curriculum that I developed providing additional insight to the pedagogy, delivery of the curriculum, and student learning. Three months after the courses ended, a sample set of students and parents took part in follow-up interviews regarding the impact of the course. Because games, specifically digital games (also called video games), are seen as potentially corrupting to children, I gathered parental input on their child’s involvement. At the center of this study’s curriculum, playful, game-like methods were used to create game-based artworks. Students critiqued games using detailed, expressive language to describe how games work, critically aware of how commercial games differ in complexity. From their game making experiences, students gained confidence and knowledge finding game structures in everyday life and how to make programmable media like video games. This study argues that learning through game-based art pedagogy, students begin to understand complexity thinking by producing digital media as a form of artistic expression, and as a form of preparation for future learning in and beyond a 4-12th grade art curriculum.