To jumpstart your playful thinking for this gaming issue of SLC, here's a fun challenge. Step back to your childhood, say age 10 or younger, and think of ten memorable games from school, home, scouts, camp, or other favorite places to play. Consider any games that you remember, of any type.
On your mark, get set, go!
Do you have your ten? Here are mine: Sorry, Heads Up Seven-Up, Monopoly, Hi-Ho Cherry O, Red Rover, Battleship, Checkers, Clue, Boggle, and Upset the Fruit Basket. Just for fun, I Googled some of these "classic" games and looked up forgotten rules, while memories of distinct places and people flooded back to me. I can see the Monopoly board and play money on the dining room table at home with my parents and brother. I can hear laughter and shouts from group games played with classmates at Brownie meetings in a church basement and at recess on the school playground.
Thinking about these childhood games, I remember an array of feelings associated with playing: enjoyment, uncertainty, pride, relaxation, pressure, annoyance, excitement, envy, triumph, frustration, and maybe a little boredom. I recall experiences, too—I learned how to play and to play successfully by observing fellow players and assessing my own choices; I grappled with social situations; and I applied understandings across games, from the simple (taking turns) to the more complex (game strategy). What I don't recall, though, is Stuff I Learned from Playing Games—that is, specific, curricular-worthy outcomes resultant of my play. Yet, in order to justify the introduction of games for young people into classrooms and school libraries, we educators tend to feel that making an explicit link to learning is necessary, or perhaps it is even required in lesson plans. Therefore, many of us seek to provide students with game experiences centered around curricular objectives, such as board or card games about science or history content, or escape rooms themed by language arts concepts, like novels read or authors studied.
As teachers and learners, we are interested to try game play at school for the fun and content-based learning it may foster. Some research suggests that curricular learning, engagement, and motivation may be supported through certain types of games. Note that the use of "suggests" and "may" here are intentional. In reading about gaming and learning, you'll notice that discussions of cause and effect are careful and specific. As a field, this work is still growing; for examples and discussion, see Learning Science through Computer Games and Simulations edited by Margaret A. Honey and Margaret Hilton and Computer Games for Learning: An Evidence-Based Approach by Robert Mayer.
In any case, beyond efforts to link gaming with content-specific knowledge acquisition, there is even more to understand about the benefits of gaming for learning. In fact, if we focus solely on "using" gaming as an enticing way to attain curricular outcomes, we may miss the opportunity to observe and nurture literacies and capacities that are potentially unique to the experience of gaming. One exciting path is guiding students to design games through coding, making original board games or card games, inventing new rules for existing games, or creating escape rooms.
Game experiences require and leverage rich interactions and thinking, both as individuals and in the varying dynamics of groups. In the book What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, scholar James Paul Gee explores video gaming as a form of human learning "fully embedded in (situated within) a material, social, and cultural world" (2007, p. 9). Further, Gee lists 36 "principles of learning" built into good video games and potentially attainable for learners. For example, in the discovery principle (which seems to align with goals of inquiry), "overt telling is kept to a well-thought-out minimum, allowing ample opportunity for the learner to experiment and make discoveries" (p. 226).
In a two-part article in ACCESS: Journal of the Australian School Library Association, Philip Minchin (2018) suggests four literacies developed by playing tabletop games, as follows (with my paraphrasing):
- Psychological literacy (noticing and managing your reactions and considering others' thinking)
- Social literacy (recognizing relationships and interactions between people and groups)
- Systems literacy (knowing how systems operate and utilizing commonalities across different ones)
- Procedural literacy (drawing from the three literacies above, this "focuses on systems regulating the behavior of multiple individuals in a single situation")
I encourage you to read Minchin's articles (https://philipminchin.com/2018/06/08/an-article-and-a-podcast/) and look for the questions he poses for educators and students to reflect on game experiences, such as "what are the social contracts and systems this game creates?" (June 2018, p. 34). For more on games and learning, try the resources listed below.
As for your 10 childhood games—consider what elements made them unforgettable. What experiences, emotions, and learning made these games stick with you through the years? And how might you foster these outcomes, perhaps alongside content learning and other desired goals, for learners in your school library?
Institute of Play https://www.instituteofplay.org/
Highlights from the Institute of Play site: 7 Game-Like Learning Principles videos — https://www.instituteofplay.org/gll-principles and Games and Learning Reading List — https://www.instituteofplay.org/research
OER Commons games (Open educational resources games with reviews) https://www.oercommons.org/browse?f.material_types=game
Edutopia Game-Based Learning (articles featuring games and apps that apply game design to learning) https://www.edutopia.org/blogs/beat/game-based-learning
Common Sense Media Best Games for Kids (The site's Best Apps and Best Websites sections also include games) https://www.commonsensemedia.org/game-lists
AASL Best Apps for Learning (includes some games) http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards/best/apps
AASL Best Websites for Teaching and Learning (includes some games) http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards/best/websites
ALSC Great Websites for Kids (search by content area, such as Animals and The Arts) http://gws.ala.org/
International Games Week, November 2019. http://games.ala.org/international-games-week/
Gee, James Paul. What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. Palgrave MacMillan, 2007.
Minchin, Philip. "In Praise of Tabletop Games: Part 1." ACCESS: Journal of the Australian School Library Association 32, no. 1 (March 2018): 41-45.
Minchin, Philip. "In Praise of Tabletop Games: Part 2." ACCESS: Journal of the Australian School Library Association 32, no. 2 (June 2018): 34-39.