EPIC: playing to become

In 2014 CSU Chico decided to use game-based learning principles to redesign Early Start into something that didn’t feel or look like remediation. Students, not their teachers or the institution’s curriculum, would be the center of this course. Using predominant theorists in the field of game Chico designed an Early Start that would focus on helping students learn how to learn, participate, and be in the University as well as its environs. The new Early Start, named EPIC, was built with kinesthetic structures that stress the concept of learning-by-doing. Constructivism calls this concept legitimate peripheral participation while gaming studies refers to it as embodied learning. But both entail a performative experiential approach where the learner gradually internalizes the practices needed to become a more capable participant. It is in this way that good learning, according to the field of game studies, requires the making of goals stemming from an ongoing construction of a more capable identity. Unfortunately the effect of traditional remediation like Early Start is typically the exact opposite: students become so put off at being labeled remedial that they lose all confidence to perform or internalize the activities of remediation. And if they can’t perform or participate, and already feel the opposite of confident, how is that they are to be remedied in remedial programs? Game based structures bear a striking resemblance to Vygotsky’s theories of play, learning, and development. Vygotsky’s sociocultural methodology emphasizes social relations specifically between learners and more capable peers as a means to produce genuine learning rather than information regurgitated on an exam. Games don’t cultivate knowledge prepended for a test but an identity conducive to producing more expert participation in a specific context. This study explores the results of this gamebased course, its curriculum, and the engagement we saw from the students within the program as they started to take on the identity of college learners.