In high school, it can be tough to connect with some of the classic literature that is often on the curriculum in English class. As an English teacher, it can be even harder to create ways for students to make meaningful connections to the books that we study in class as well. This August, I will be going back to my classroom to teach high school English, so this is the time of year that I sit down to plan and think about the upcoming year. I don’t just think about what I am going to teach but really how I am going to teach it.
Most kids don’t want to be at school and would much rather be playing Fortnite than reading The Scarlet Letter and, while I don’t blame them, that book is super dense, it makes me think about how we should be able to join together video games and what’s in a school’s curriculum, something that a lot of students, and teachers like me, already love. There are many different ways that video games can be utilized in the classroom, and I believe that both teachers and students have a lot to gain from game-based learning, so here are just a few ways that I think gaming can be used in the classroom.
When teaching a classic novel that many wouldn’t read on their own, it works best to make connections that will help kids relate to what they’re learning about in class. This can also apply to other subjects as well, but let’s take for example the aforementioned book The Scarlet Letter. As I said, the novel is a very dense look at identity and society, so I tried to make connections with other things that have been inspired by the book or have similar themes, like the movie Easy A and the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. The kids enjoy it more and better understand what I want them to comprehend when reading, but to take it a step further, why can’t we do the same thing with video games?
When I taught Beowulf in class, I was able to make connections with how it influenced Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in a variety of ways. Examples the fact that High Hrothgar has the same name as the sad, lonely king in the epic poem, so we were able to discuss how the character might have influenced the name of the Greybeard’s home and how the titles of jarl and thane have the same meaning in both game and poem. Why not make connections with other books and the many different video games that they have inspired, like The Witcher based on the series by Andrzej Sapkowski and BioShock inspire
Some video games set during historical times can also be useful in allowing students to explore and learn more about what they are studying in a more hands-on manner. After all, it’s been proven that we learn better by discovering things on our own as opposed to being told how to do something. Some schools have already begun to utilize VR and take their classes on virtual field trips, but imagine if it could be taken one step further.
Take, for example, Assassin’s Creed: Origins Discovery Tour where you can tour many different aspects of ancient Egypt, or the upcoming game Titanic: Honor and Glory that is striving for absolute historical accuracy in everything down to the constellations in the sky during the ship’s fateful voyage. Then there is Walden, a game that puts players in the shoes of Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau and his life at Walden Pond that inspired essential writings and ideals. The applications for this are endless, and with titles like the Total War series and Kingdom Come: Deliverance, it shows just how much detail paid to history can benefit students and teachers.
Analyzing Video Games
Other mediums like film, television, and even comic books are already utilized in the classroom. I teach a senior film study class in which we analyze movies just like you do with a book and ask questions like what different angles convey for the story, if a character is a reliable narrator, how symbols are used, etc. This can be extended to video games as well, and if students are involved in a game, they are more likely to care and notice all of these devices that I try to get them to see in books. With so many great narrative-driven games out there, like What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home, there is a wide variety to consider. Even with story-based games rooted in choice, like Life is Strange and, my personal favorite, the Mass Effect series, with all the different choices that players make as the main characters, character growth, and motivation can be explored in a way that gives students much more involvement.
My focus is mostly on English and history as that is my area of expertise. However, there are also uses for video games in other subjects and fields of study as well, and even some that can be used in training medical students. More and more game-based resources are being created for teachers as well, like Class Craft a tool that can be used to create personalized lessons in the form of quests for students to take on in the classroom. Edutopia, the George Lucas Educational Foundation, also has a list of great ideas and resources on how to best implement game-based learning that looks at other notable, and sometimes neglected areas of education, like social and emotional learning and cultivating creativity.
While video games are not the solution for total engagement and learning in schools, I believe that they are a resource that is just beginning to be used to its fullest potential. When I reached out to other teachers, a lot were extremely excited about sharing how they are incorporating using video games in the classroom or are sincerely trying, so I think it is safe to say that gaming will find a home within the classroom. Honestly, when I sense that my kids are bored, I’m bored, and even if I do care about a topic, I know that it’s not going to matter to them unless they connect with it and we have some fun. Yes, there are some obstacles to overcome, like the money to fund games or accessibility to specific consoles, but as most teachers know, you use what you have to best teach your kids.
Most teachers I know are continually striving to improve their classes so that they best engage kids and leave them with impactful, lasting lessons, and while it won’t fix everything that needs to change in education, I think that game-based learning can change the classroom for the better.