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Video Games and Schools

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So I'm a high school English teacher and I've been thinking a lot recently about how Video Games can be incorporated into the classroom. Obviously there are lots of ways but I'm thinking in particular about picking games that could be analysed for themes/representations of particular ideologies (gender/politics/whatever), or in terms of their narrative. I once went to a PD where I saw a school that used a Video Game as a pretext for a creative writing unit (essentially they got students to write fanfic of the game, but used moments from the game as writing prompts) and they found it was highly effective.

So, long story short, I'm trying to think of game recommendations that could be used in a classroom environment and was wondering if people might help me crowd-source some ideas. My criteria (or rather, the criteria for the people I will inevitably have to convince at the school) for a reasonable game would probably be as follows:

- Cheap/Free (lol schools have no money and buying a class set of a game is hecka expensive). Alternatively, one expensive game that would be suitable for showing/playing as a class might work.

- Platform (my school has Macbooks and some iPads, but I'm happy to take Windows/Android suggestions)

- Not too long (I figure it takes the 'average' kids 5-10 hours to read a book prescribed by their teacher, so I think anything much longer than that would be stretching good will).

- Narratively driven (has to have a plot of some sort, even if it's a bit esoteric like Journey)

- Age appropriate (this will vary, but no massive terrible gore-fests)

- Not too difficult (some kids will never have played a game before; this is one of the reasons things like 'Walking Simulators' or Adventure games kind of appeal to me for this task - if a kid gets stuck it's not dependant on their gaming talent for them to be able to progress and they can always look up a guide).

Thoughts/suggestions/feedback are always welcome and appreciated! Perhaps I'm coming at this from entirely the wrong angle... If you have any experiences of games in the classroom (what worked/didn't) I'd also be super curious to hear how that went.

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I've been teaching a college composition course themed around video games. I'm using the following:

“Small Worlds”



“The Marriage”



“Back to the First Date”

“Gunpoint (Demo)”

“Today I Die”



"Swing Copters" (tied with Ian Bogost's essay in The Atlantic about the game being a peak into sublimity)

“Real Lives”


“Every Day the Same Dream”

“Depression Quest”
“Cart Life”
“The Graveyard”
“Icarus Proudbouttom Teaches Typing”
They're all free, and only Cart Life requires any significant amount of time to play. Some games (Canabalt, Flow, Gunpoint, Swing Copters) have no real narrative that's worth examining, but I use them as examples of the gameplay being the meaning--something tied very heavily to my course design, for my particular course.
For me, the emphasis is on the understanding of action as speech, and the ability of the students to recognize and find out writing (through essays we read and that they research), but also videos, etc., and incorporate the visual, motion, and actions of parties as an inherent part of discourse. We spend a lot of time just breaking down games, very simply, and then I build the class out to making more nuanced arguments. The final project has the students creating a game as part of a small group (sometimes a Video game, but generally a boardgame, for time/expertise reasons) that addresses a problem (anything from obesity to climbing the corporate ladder to domestic violence, etc.) in the form of a game in which the structure of the game conveys/reinforces the idea that they have researched. Then they write a postmortem breaking down the project and how it was able/not able to address the problem sufficiently. 
Hope that helps, and good luck!

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Paper's Please sounds like it could be good but it has grainy pixel nudity (edit: which you can toggle off). You play as an immigration officer in a fictionalised Eastern European state trying to balance bribes, your family's health, and the official immigration policy.


In terms of absolutely free and short there's probably a few gems out there on Itch.io


If you want an engaging story driven walking simulator then maybe Gone Home? It's at the higher end of things at $20 but it's looking at some pretty relatable teen things like

home life, riot grrl, rebellion, and coming out.

Another one would be something like Firewatch which is more about people in their thirties looking at their lives while walking through a gorgeous national park. It's $20 again but it's also really special.


Just an idea but if you wanted to discuss some of the more expensive/difficult games in your class you could maybe find a low commentary lets play to show snippets and springboard from the themes that way?


There's a more expensive spreadsheet game called Democracy (but you could use an older game from the series) where you choose a country and make policy decisions that balance different factions in your electorate. Most of the time you're trying to please your core base and avoid being assassinated by radicals.


Undertale is a $10 game that while being a longer rpg is pretty huge with young teens+ and deals with things like friendship, non-violence, etc.

Dragon's probably helping you a lot more with those excellent free games but those are just my few cents :P


Oh and if you didn't want to just do video games there are some smaller board games that could encourage learning through play. There's The Quiet Year an $8 indie game where a group of people sit down and act as town planners while trying to rebuild things before an ominous calamity comes at the end of the year.

I was also going to mention Dog Eat Dog which is a confrontational simulation of how colonial oppression steadily erodes the identities of the aboriginal peoples. However it doesn't seem to have reached it's funding goal and is missing payment information from the creator's site :/ .

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I'm a middle school math/science teacher up here in Canada myself, and while I've never used PLAYING games as a teaching vehicle, one of my favourite projects ever was for a unit on wetland animal life cycles in which I had the kids create games in TWINE that had players live out their chosen creature's life. It was incredibly engaging for them, and as the tool is free and very easy to use, almost everyone was able to put something together. Results were mixed on the actual final product, but for a group of fifth graders, what they did was pretty awesome. I put them up here: gradeschoolif.weebly.com


I'm sure that, as an English teacher with older kids than I have, you'd be able to do some pretty astounding creative writing works with a few of them.


Incidentally, I'm currently re-working the same project to do with a fresh batch of kids in a few weeks time (hopefully with a bit better results. The difference in my planning ability between being in the second year of my career then and the fourth year now is pretty big), and will be posting what the kids do in the game development forum for interested parties to see what ten year olds do with interactive fiction. I'm sure the kids would love getting feedback from real players when the time comes. Just throwing that out there...

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These are all great ideas and I am mulling over a number of them.

I don't teach and it isn't free, but I would think 80 Days would be perfect.


I think 80 Days is published by Inkle Studios and they seem to have an interest in getting teachers to use their interactive fiction platform, so it might be worth sending them an email to see if they offer some sort of educational license.


Being a massive 80 Days fan this would be suuuuper cool.

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I guess it depends on what or how you want to use them in the classroom 


Her Story and Beginner's Guide have some potential, particularly in themes and narratives. 

Elegy for a dead world is a game that is supposed to help people write



There is a lot of good stuff in the IF space too for narrative and it is all free - Photopia is fast and easy, Spider and Web is maybe more interesting from a game writer point of view, and Aisle i think could be a great start of a writing exercise


Bernband is a low fi graphic exploration game on a weird space station, could be another jump off point for writing 



Theres also a game somewhere on the internet where you play briefly as someone from some part of the world and i cant remember what it is called.


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