Games in the Classroom (part 2)

Origins Game Fair 2010 -One of the easiest ways to get started with games in the classroom is by using an already-established game to teach or reinforce a concept. A game can be played during a single lesson, assigned as homework, or even integrated as a class text throughout the semester. It can be a rewarding way to change the pace of the classroom, but it can also be frustrating to try to find an appropriate game without dedicating hours to playing potential titles.

Here are a few tips for finding a new game to try out in your class this year:

Know your labels. You can learn a lot from a game based on its classification. When a game is designed with a primary purpose other than entertainment, it is generally labeled a serious game. A newsgame, such as Cutthroat Capitalism, is usually related to a current event, while edutainment is a label generally given to games that are educational and typically subject-based. In the mainstream commercial market, the genre of a game will give you cues to its gameplay, while the ESRB rating can be a quick guideline for the intended age of the audience.

Seek out good advice. Online game review and community sites, such as Gamasutra and Board Game Geek, can be great places to get started, but they’re not aimed towards educational uses. Directories such as the Serious Game Classification and the Games for Change arcade are more targeted, while specialized blogs such as Grand Text AutoPlay the Past, and Terra Nova offer insight into current games and their possible uses, while conferences such as Meaningful PlayGames + Learning + SocietyLEEF, and the Serious Games Summit often include presentations of new games.

Pick the right platform. Often the idea of using a game is abandoned because of limits of time, space and money. If you aren’t teaching in a computer lab, adding digital games can be daunting, and console games are an even more unlikely proposition. Similarly, using a modern commercial game is always going to be more expensive than a title produced by an independent or educational group. Choosing readily-available, free-to-download games will make it easier for students to continue to play outside of class.

Don’t overlook board games. Physical games, such as board and card games, are easy to bring into any classroom without the barriers of technology. They offer concrete opportunities to manipulate elements, and often include complex simulations. Physical games cover a wide range of concepts, from tabletop war games to pandemic response scenarios, from spurring creativity to considering ecology.

Check out your local game shop. If you’re one the hunt for a board or card game and are lucky enough to have a game store near you, it can be a great place to learn more about specialized board and card games, and even to try them out in the company of more experienced players. Computer game stores are usually chains with few opportunities to try games out, but demos and browser-based games are easy to find.

Don’t forget your library. Some institutions are starting to amass special games collections that can be a great starting point for finding games, and others have knowledgeable librarians who can help you find something appropriate, or perhaps even get such a collection started. Your library might also have resources of space or computers available, or be able to assist you in making a game available for students to play outside of class.

Fact-check your games. Just as with any other text, games can contain content with bias, out-of-date information, oversimplifications, or just plain inaccuracies. None of that necessarily means a game is unusable—those types of errors can be opportunities for dialogues in-class—but it can also be harder to locate these problems in a game than in a text. If you find a game through the web, check the sponsoring organization or creator for clues towards potential biases.

Have you found any games to try in your class this semester? Where do you go to search for new games for the classroom?

[Creative Commons licensed imaged by Flickr user Will Merydith]

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