How I implement games in the classroom

In my current teaching practice, I use game-based learning and video games-as-text regularly. I create playful activities using “house rules” and encourage students to answer questions and actively participate in class discussions by adding a playful layer on top of the class discussion. One way I do this is by modifying the game Jenga. Sometimes I use the physical version while other times I use the video game version, Jenga: World Tour. I separate students into various groups and ask them questions about the course content. If the students of a given group answer correctly, then the students from other groups have to pull a block. If they answer incorrectly, however, then the students in that group must pull blocks from their towers. The teams whose towers collapse first lose, and whoever has the last tower standing earns a few points toward a major assessment of their choosing. This is an engaging activity that can be used in any classroom.

Another practice that I have found successful is the use of a gamified layer to assessment. Instead of using a standard average-based curve, I tell students that they start the class at “Level zero” and have no “experience points.” In order to pass the class, they need to “level up” to level 10, which is done by earning points via class assignments, exams, and presentations. As students complete the course requirements they level up their class characters at a rate of 70 experience points per level. To earn a B in class they need to reach level 12, and to earn an A they need to reach level 14. This form of points-based assessment makes students feel more engaged with the process, as they feel that they take on a more active role in their assessment.

Finally, I use video games as text. As an English instructor this might be easier for me than it could be for instructors in other disciplines. When teaching the elements of literature there are almost countless story-based games to draw from, and when discussing themes of race, gender, class, prejudice, empathy, identity, or any of the other themes common to the English classroom I have several games to choose from. Westport Independent and Papers Please, for example, are both language-intensive story-driven games that explore the effects of totalitarian governments on society. When I teach argument, I can always rely on Logomancer and Last Word, games about using rhetorical appeals to persuade an audience. Even when teaching basic writing skills I can always use Elegy for a Dead World and Kind Words, games about reading and writing, sharing the player’s creations with the community, and giving feedback to other writers. Still, the fact that many games are compatible with various English courses does not mean that there are no games that can be used in other courses.

Games from iCivics explore various political principles, while several strategy games depict historically accurate events and time periods. Increasingly, games focusing on developing STEM skills are being published in online storefronts like Steam and the Epic Launcher, and some mobile games on iOS and Android can easily be implemented in health science classrooms.