For years video games have been seen as just a children’s toy. However video games can be used to teach players not only motor skills but also more about themselves and the world around them. Gee’s thirty-six learning principles are based on concepts found in every video game. Every game from every genre contains at least some of the principals no matter how simple it may seem on the surface. I am going to explore how prevalent these learning principles are in just the first hour and a half of the 2011 action role playing game Dues Ex: Human Revolution. The game stars Adam Jensen a security officer at a human augmentation research and development facility who is killed in action. He is soon brought back to life by the company and now has mental and physical augmentations.

Even though I was new to the series I had heard that the Dues Ex games allow players to go through missions how they want using the means they see fit to shape their character. These directly tie into Gee’s Identity principle and are explored constantly in this game. The Identity principle relates to how a player meditates on the relationship that they want not only with the character they are playing but also how that character interacts with others and the game world. I decided to go into this game trying to have an aggressive attitude towards non-playable characters and combat since I tend to play very stealthy in most games with this choice. When first talking to a scientist who seemed to have a problem with Adam I chose very abrasive responses to his dialog. Instead of telling him how I felt I picked for Adam to say “back off” and told people “that I enjoyed my human augmentation”. This was a conscious decision on my part as I felt that Adam was becoming a cold monotone killing machine and wanted my game to reflect that. On the way to my first mission I was asked if I wanted to keep things lethal and if I wanted to go in at range. I chose lethal and close range, which resulted in me entering the first mission with a revolver. Dues Ex also features a leveling up like many role playing games and I got to level up twice in my time with the game. I chose to get an arm augmentation which would allow me to further explore my aggressive play through with the added ability to smash through weak walls. Doing these types of upgrades and playing in this style was quite strange for me honestly. While it made sense to me from a story perspective to play aggressively I had a hard time not trying to sneak around and trying to spare as many virtual lives as possible. I always find that playing as a stealthy character is both more challenging and rewarding which could explain why I got so bored during my time with the game.

Which upgrade is best for you?

Like many action games Dues Ex Human Revolution has strong examples of the “Psychosocial Moratorium” principle which states that learners enter a space where real-world consequences are lowered or all together removed. Through my brief time I was able to do several things that I would not be able to do in real life. For one I was able to jump off a high stair case to test if there was fall damage in the game. I died immediately and had to reload my save.  Going along with my aggressive run when I encountered room filled with gun wielding terrorists  I decided the best course of action was to fight them all off while being shot. Even though I died several times it helped me to learn how to better play the game at my own pace and reloading a checkpoint that was a minute ago did not seem like a big deal. The fact that I could comfortably work my way into the game mechanics by trying and dying made the game a lot more enjoyable since there was no severe consequence for dying.  I was not going to be able to win fights by just running at the enemies head on. Using the cover system and taking things slower allowed me to eventually prevail.  It also let me do things I would never do that hit me more on an emotional level. When first leaving the after being rebuilt with human augmentation I came across the mother of Adam’s girlfriend (who had been killed in the same terrorist attack Adam was) she asked me how I was holding up.  Instead of being a sympathetic person by mourning the death of my love I told her that I was not concerned about her death and was ready to move on.  This is something that I could never imagine doing in real life but it made sense in the context of my character. However unlike many games where it only allows players to do physical things that are not realistic for them to do (gun down hoards of enemies, fly, use my hair to fight off angels) Dues Ex allows players to also do and say things that emotionally they would be unable to do without severe consequences.

So much virtual blood on my hands..

The practice principle which states that players are allowed to learn in a non-boring or passive way by exploring and experimentation is also heavily featured in Dues Ex. Even though I died on several occasions for my aggressive in game behavior, I was still able to learn at my own pace. When in a combat room I was shot and killed after exposing myself to the enemies. When reloading the checkpoint I had learned several important features such as the number of enemies, enemy character’s paths that they followed, and the layout of each of the maps. After finally conquering this section and moving on I used my new skills to observe the room first and make note of several important features before opening fire. In the next room instead of rushing in I took the time to observe my surroundings. Upon looking around I had discovered a ladder to my left. Climbing it gave me a tactical advantage so I could safely rain bullets down on the enemies bellow. Being able to learn through gameplay instead of being explicitly told what to do and instead allowed me to learn at my own pace and feel a greater sense of ownership over my play time.

During my play through I also noticed some parallels to the real world which is the main concept behind the Cultural Models about the World principle. During the introductory stages there is a lot of talk between characters about whether or not human augmentation is wrong or not even though the laboratory is focused on researching the technology. The characters who attacked the lab in the introductory moments were actually human purists. They were very against the use and research of human augmentation and therefore were made out to be terrorists by the company I worked for. These purists also served as the antagonists of the first main mission.  In fact the people who attack the lab in the beginning and were the main antagonists of the first mission were purists who believed that human augmentation was an abomination. Characters who support augmentations such as Adam’s boss and scientists in the building think that augmentations help not only the military in terms of strength but also other professions and research with brain augmentations. Even though they were employed to advance human augmentation there were still other scientists in the lab that seemed a little uncomfortable with the technology. Unfortunately in my brief playtime I was unable to find out why these purists were so against human augmentation so I could not justify their violent actions yet. While not as extreme I saw some parallels to not only steroids and other performance enhancing drugs but also drugs that supposedly allow the user to better concentrate in school. Though they provide an unfair advantage some would argue that they can improve humanity which is the same justification used for human augmentations in the game. Like human augmentations in the game world these are a huge controversy in the real world which makes it an interesting topic to explore in the game. Having an interesting topic for discussion as its main focus made the game much more interesting than many of the “shoot the foreign terrorists” first person shooters.


These are only a few of the learning principles that relate to Dues Ex Human Revolution but like many games there a plenty of others that can be found in the game. Gee’s principles are  so well defined for video games that finding them in any title takes very little effort. The principles relate not only to game play and figuring out how to play but extend to concepts that taught me more about myself and the world around me. Players do not only learn from the challenges brought to them through a fight but also through making the game world their own.