Anyone who knows me, in real life or online, knows that this semester I built my general education writing class (Writing II at my institution) around games. As I noted when I first began the semester, the focus of the class would be writing and text and what games could teach us about the evolving definition of text and the human experience (which is a big focus of Writing II) as well as how games could help us learn more about audience, context, and rules. I can safely report at the end of the semester that all my hopes for the lessons that games could teach us were fulfilled and more. So now I want to share the three reasons that I believe everyone should consider teaching with and through games.
Games Are Fun
Games bookended our semester. Our first class was nothing but games and our final exam period was nothing but games. I still remember a student declaring that first class: “Best English class ever!” and I lost count of the number of students who exclaimed: “Best Final Exam ever!” We played serious games, competitive games, silly games, quirky games, and every one of us experienced games that we had never even heard of before (perhaps because they were not invented until our class). Regular game play and game talk meant that we always had something to look forward to even when we were taking a deep dive into MLA rules or exploring the depths of a library database and on the days when we played engagement levels were always high. I love learning and I am an unabashed nerd, but not everyone aspires to my level of dorkdom. One of the things I loved the most about our game theme is that we had so much fun learning together. Students’ end-of-semester reflections noted this over and over that they didn’t know what to expect about this college writing class but they certainly did not expect to have so much fun.
Games Are Unboxed
As I’ve noted, we played a lot of games, but we didn’t just play those games. We explored the history of those games and we examined the rhetorical choices made by both the game designer and players and we contemplated at great length what those games taught us about humans. These activities forced us to think about argument, rhetoric, and text in different ways. These activities forced us to think about thinking and how ideas are formed, evolved, or changed. So many students reported in their final reflections that they were much more conscious of their biases and preconceived notions and much more inclined to push back against established narratives to uncover the facts that might contradict or complicate those ideas. In fact, one of my proudest moments as I wandered around our Final Exam Game Jam was how many games were variations of that theme: pushing back against an established narrative or challenging the players to question the status quo. Learning through game play forced us out of our collective mindset ruts and helped us to think outside the box when it comes to learning and life.
Games Offer Endless Variety
I suspect that games (or certainly play) predate humanity as we know that animals engage in play and games. That means that the study of games offers a wealth of historical, scientific, and philosophical texts to explore which is tremendously beneficial for a class that is supposed to focus on research and reading as well as writing. Also, the endless variation of games in type, form, and function allowed us to explore the idea that text also comes in endless variations. However, it is also helpful to conduct this study within the framework of games because there are rules about what is considered a game and how a game functions, just as there are rules about what is a text and how a text functions. The study of games can be extremely rhetorical and many of my students noted in their final reflections that they hadn’t realized how interesting and exciting the study of rhetoric could be until we applied it to games.
Games are a wonderful tool for teaching writing, but my semester teaching with games this semester has reinforced for me that games can be used in any content area and with equal success. Have you used games in your classroom? How could you use games to teach your content area?