teachers teaching real video games in the classroom for educational purposes: math, English ELA EFL ESL, social studies, physics Zachary Hartzman, Maryanne Cullinan, Adam Mills, and Harry Loizides

New York Comic Con 2021 is a husk of itself thanks to COVID, and almost anything actually newsworthy from the event is available to stream virtually. These factors did not become apparent until after I had already been approved as press though, so here I am at NYCC 2021, casting a spotlight on the interesting video game-relevant scraps of information that remain. One of which was the “Can We Finally Admit Games Should Be in the Classroom?” panel, in which four schoolteachers described their approaches to introducing games — both video games and tabletop — into the classroom for educational purposes. And I mean actual games like Journey and Papers, Please, not Mario Teaches Typing.

Right now, getting video games into classrooms for teaching can be a hard sell because, at the end of the day, everything the kids learn has to funnel back into giving them the knowledge to do well on standardized tests (which is its own problematic can of worms). Administrators may be skeptical that video games can help to achieve that. That’s why the presenters — Zachary Hartzman, Maryanne Cullinan, Adam Mills, and Harry Loizides — stressed the importance of planning your ideas out fully and creating clear educational goals. Along those same lines, it’s best to start out small, with lessons that only take between 5 minutes or one full class period, so as not to bite off more than one can chew.

Zachary Hartzman, the founder of Hey Listen Games (which is specifically about sharing free examples of video game applications in the classroom) and an inaugural member of The Future Class at The Game Awards, provided abundant ideas at the panel. His attitude is to approach video games like any other “text” or piece of art through which students learn, like books or comics. He uses free browser game The Republia Times from Lucas Pope, which can be completed in maybe 15 minutes by children on provided Chromebooks, to teach about propaganda in social studies. Lucas Pope’s more popular title Papers, Please can likewise be used in social studies to teach about refugee crisis, with a roughly half-and-half split of class time spent playing and then discussing.

teachers teaching real video games in the classroom for educational purposes: math, English ELA EFL ESL, social studies, physics Zachary Hartzman, Maryanne Cullinan, Adam Mills, and Harry Loizides

On the English language arts (ELA) front, there are various games that can be used for learning vocabulary and comprehension, especially for EFL (English as a foreign language) or special-needs learners trying to absorb different styles of communication. Walking simulators like What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home are useful toward these ends, and Hartzman notes that they’re particularly good for hooking people who normally wouldn’t care about video games due to their unique narratives.

Meanwhile, games like Florence and Journey can be used to teach about relationships and a hero’s journey respectively, and they’re useful for EFL students because the games contain no speaking; it’s all audiovisual. Additionally, as special education and social studies teacher Adam Mills noted, video games allow for easy incorporation of modification and accommodations for students with their accessibility options, which is excellent for special-needs students.

On the science and technology front, math teacher and Six One Indie managing editor Harry Loizides had a few fun ideas for teaching topics that kids do not think are fun. For instance, kids can calculate the parabolas of how characters are launched from attacks in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or how Mario jumps from pipe to pipe in Super Mario Bros. And to teach probabilities (at various skill levels), turn-based RPGs that use hard calculations can be incorporated. In Pokémon, Pikachu’s Thunder attack might have a 70% hit rate, so various questions could be constructed around the likelihood of Thunder hitting according to various factors. Kids can sharpen their math skills while become more effective Pokémon trainers. And if students are diving deep into tech or physics, things like Nintendo Labo, Game Builder Garage, and Portal 2 with its level creator could be useful tools.

teachers teaching real video games in the classroom for educational purposes: math, English ELA EFL ESL, social studies, physics Zachary Hartzman, Maryanne Cullinan, Adam Mills, and Harry Loizides

So, based off this sampling of ideas (and without even getting into the clever tabletop and gamification ideas, since this is a video game website), it’s pretty clear video games already have a good amount of utility in the classroom as teaching tools if proper planning goes into their use. And incidentally, it reminds me of an old letter I read in Nintendo Power back in the ‘90s, of a teacher who would bring Final Fantasy III to school on Fridays to play with the class and have them predict what would happen next in the story. It reflects that progressive teachers have been trying to unite video games and education for a long time. Hopefully this can become the norm sooner rather than later, but it would be even better if the textbooks themselves could start to incorporate video games into the discussion (where applicable, of course).

John Friscia
Head Copy Editor for Enthusiast Gaming, Managing Editor at The Escapist. I'm a writer who loves Super Nintendo and Japanese role-playing games to an impractical degree. I really miss living in South Korea. And I'm developing the game Boss Saga!

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