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All, Fun

As my students and I embark on our new adventure, exploring the intersections of games and writing, I have found our time together playing games, sharing our gaming history, and exploring key questions about this work to be very rewarding and I think my students have enjoyed the journey too (but maybe that’s just the candy I brought to our first class). So far we have spent most of our time together playing games. Both sections of my Writing II class are hybrid so we only meet in person half the time. Our entire class meeting on the first day was devoted to playing games and half of our second class was also games. I expect we will play games about half of next week’s class as well. The fourth week will be escape games so I’m not sure how long that will take but I expect we will get some more typical class work done then as well.

I’ve chosen to spend so much time on games during these early weeks because those games support two of my priorities for all my classes as well as help us jump start the work our class will focus upon. If you know anything about me as a teacher then you should know that community is important to me. We need to know each other, we need to trust each other, and we need to support each other. I spend a lot of time at the beginning of every semester not just breaking the ice but deliberately building community. I have written a lot about the various ways that I do this work, but it is also essential that this community-building also serve the work of our class because I do not believe in wasting time and effort (I love it when activities and assignments can be twofers!). I want our first class meetings and activities to set the tone of the work that we will do together and start that work off with a bang — this semester I have found that playing games together does all that and so much more.

I wanted us to play some more traditional board games for our first class, but due to my classroom setup (desks with tablet arms that slant and flip up) and our limited time I opted to focus on card games instead. I found a delightful box set that included Uno, Phase 10, and Snappy Dressers (which I am now obsessed with playing). What was wonderful about these three games is that most people knew how to play Uno and there were several in each group that knew how to play Phase 10, but no one knew how to play Snappy Dressers (which has many variations). So this was a good demonstration of how our class, especially writing workshop, will work. Sometimes we are in familiar territory and sometimes we are learning with some guidance and sometimes we are all learning together. Our second class focused on party games and I chose Walrus and Would You Rather. I have found that you can easily play Walrus with more than two people. Our groups were as big as six and it worked out just fine. I love this game and I love watching other people play it too. It is a wonderfully ridiculous logic game. Our goal was to keep the round going as long as possible so it was collaborative rather than competitive which made it all the more fun. I chose to make Would You Rather more rhetorical by requiring that players make an argument supporting their choice and attempting to win others to their choice. It made it a lot more fun to watch too. I knew going into these classes that games could build community and trust, but I was impressed by how students stepped up to help each other learn the rules and handing back cards or turns with advice for the novice players. I love that we began our work together having fun and helping each other. I also love that playing and learning different games together gives us a framework for understanding and discussing rules and genres so as we began working our way through various rhetorical forms and we discuss the rules that will guide our writing we have already built an important foundation.

While our game play was fun and built community, we also embarked on some more serious thinking about games. I shared a variety of texts with my students the first week and asked them to explore the questions: What are games and why do we play games? We encountered a number of voices including Jesper Juul and Jane McGonigal. I love that my students are already beginning to see that rules and guidelines are important to defining genres, but many are pushing back on the idea of rigid boundaries and definitions. I’m also happy to see how many see that games are more than entertainment. This week we are bringing in more voices, including James Paul Gee, to explore the questions: Can games make us better and can games make the world better?

All of this work is building to our first assignment: a gaming narrative (a twist on my usual literacy narrative) where students will argue whether or not games have something to teach us. Students will draw upon their own gaming history (which we explored during our more formal class introductions) as well as the sources and questions we have explored to stake and support their claims. Speaking of those gaming histories, it was interesting to note that only a few students had very little experience (past or current) with games. Most have a rich experience that includes board games, card games, playground games, and video games. Many shared stories about playing board games and card game with the families. It was interesting to me that while video games are an important part of many gaming traditions they are not dominant. I also loved that for many of my students playing games is a community activity that is primarily about bonding with friends and family. I have always questioned the common media narrative that games are a force for evil and so far my students have helped me see even more good in games.

What do you think about my classes’ exploration of the intersections between games and learning? Do you have questions about why I would choose to focus my writing classes on games? Are you jealous because I got to spend most of my day Tuesday playing Walrus?


Artwork by Pentagram


  • Hi there-
    I currently teach 7/8 English in a Catholic grade school and I am looking to flip the table in my class and shake up how these kids experience English. I’ve slowly integrated graphic novels and comics, but I also want to do more for them. I really would love to do something like this, however, I have a tremendous amount of pushback from parents because it’s not traditional. I’ve tried explaining that ‘traditional’ learning doesn’t exist anymore. How do you share your visions and reasoning with parents or those who push back?

    • That is such an important question. One argument I have used is to explain that the skills I am teaching (summary, analysis, or whatever) work equally well no matter the text but giving students an engaging text makes a huge difference in their engagement with it. I use comics a lot as a gateway to teaching more challenging texts and that method really helps students see how humans have long grappled with core philosophical questions. Some students complain that I have ruined pop culture for them because now they see the layers of meaning in TV shows and movies that they had previously overlooked.

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