By Casey McArdle
The use of digital gaming in the classroom has evolved over the past thirty years from typing games like Mavis Beacon, adventure games like Oregon Trail, online collaborative spaces like Second Life, to current games supported by research that shows how such digital interactions can sharpen awareness and problem solving skills (Bavelier). Connections from digital spaces to real-world spaces are being made with new games created specifically for the academic space.
As a gamer and as an educator, I have always found value in gaming, but I have never brought it into the classroom directly for rhetorical purposes. Digital games are topics that my students write about, that they research and present to the class as being viable spaces for collaboration and interaction-–more than just entertainment and a way to stay in touch with friends-–games are a part of their every day life, of their every day growth.
Ms. Meuser’s video, “English is For Squares: Thomas was Alone as a Classroom Text,” explores the complexities of using the video game Thomas was Alone to enhance student connections to literary works. The personified rectangles in the game struggle to navigate the digital obstacles and require the gamer to help them move from portal to portal. These moves by the gamer can resemble moves made by authors as they move characters around a text. Thomas was Alone initiates a bond with the gamer, so they understand that while there are personified rectangles there to help Thomas, they need one another, as they need the gamer; and, the end goal of the book, as the end goal of the game, is the negotiation of these learning spaces through interaction.
I am reminded of a TED Talk given by Ali Carr-Chellman where she discussed the importance of building games and meeting students in spaces they feel comfortable: “We can design better games. Most of the educational games that are out there today are really flashcards. They’re glorified drill and practice. They don’t have the depth, the rich narrative that really engaging video games have.” Carr-Chellman was addressing the nature of how young men use games, but her call for better game design and richer knowledge making environments appeals to everyone. As educators, we have to rethink our pedagogy and the tools we use. And as Ms. Meuser points out, “Thomas was Alone stands as an excellent text for teachers not simply because it illustrates literary concepts and themes, but because it does so in a way not wholly accessible through traditional classroom media.” The game may not have been created for academic literary usage, but it works perfectly for such literary elaboration and connection.
As students become more engaged with digital spaces, new media is slowly absorbing traditional classroom media and educators must build better bridges to meet students in spaces where collaboration and knowledge building can occur. “English is For Squares” reminds me that there are games that have been designed for academic spaces (such as the ones from my youth) and that those that perhaps were not intended for such spaces can also succeed in educating. Many of my engineering and architecture students play Minecraft for several hours a day–building worlds; the way they find beauty in digital creation through the game is the same way I find beauty when I code websites–-creation is composition and composition is writing and learning.
As Ms. Meuser describes each character and their roles of being the athlete, outcast, hero, etc. within the game, I can connect with certain characters and understand the complex relationships within the game as I contemplate relationships with literary texts as well as those that surround me in my day-to-day space. And while some of my gaming time has diminished over the years as my own family grows, as the characters in my life increase in number, I actually bought the game and played it. It is not just for kids in classrooms, it is for everyone in any space at any time, because it is about everyone.
Bavelier, Daphne. “Your brain on video games.” TEDTalks, June 2012. Web. 16 May 2014.
Carr-Chellman, Ali. “Gaming to re-engage boys in learning.” TEDTalks, Oct. 2010. Web. 16 May 2014