Riikka Aurava: Games belong in schools!

Board games can be combined to make new games and discuss game mechanics. Credits: Riikka Aurava.

Games are an important part of our culture and everyday lives, which should be reflected in education

Games are a huge part of our lives – nearly everyone plays games (Kinnunen et al., 2022), and this is particularly the case for adolescents in Finland, whose lives are interwoven with game culture (e.g., Kahila et al. 2020 and Meriläinen & Ruotsalainen 2023). Playing games is one of the most popular hobbies for adolescents in Finland (Tarvainen et al. 2023). Game worlds and characters are inspiring for free play artistic creation; they can become a platform for making friends and spending time with them, as well as learning and relaxing. However, children and youth are often in the world of games and game cultures without support from adults. Several parents and guardians do not feel like they know enough about games (Meriläinen 2020), and games are not actually discussed in schools, either (Aurava 2018). [See more about parenting and digital games]

There are teachers who use and discuss games with their students, mostly because they play games themselves (see e.g., Bourgonjon et al. 2013; Martín del Pozo et al., 2017). However, most teachers do not, which creates inequity between students. As one of the main functions of the educational system is to give equal opportunities in life to individuals with varying backgrounds (FNAE 2016, pp. 16), it is paramount that games should be more widely adopted in school use.

Game machines are available for students in recess time in Helsinki Upper secondary school of Media Arts (Helsingin medialukio). Credits: Riikka Aurava.

Game pedagogy and curriculum

Games as cultural products have a lot to offer for formal education. Game-based pedagogy traditionally includes playing games (educational or other), gamification of education, and making games (e.g., Nousiainen et al. 2018) but it can also be learning about games and playing, and other aspects of game culture and game-related communities (see Whitton 2014). In this discussion, I am focusing on including games and game-related activities in adolescents’ school life.

The educational curriculum is already full (OECD, 2020), and the inclusion of games should not come as an additional workload to teachers and students. Instead, game pedagogy can support existing curricular goals. Game pedagogy can also offer tools for transversal and integrated learning as well as co-teaching, encouraged by the Finnish curricula (FNAE 2016 and 2019) but problematic to implement in school practices (Mård & Hilli 2022; Niemelä & Tirri 2018).

The national curriculum further emphasises that learning is effective when students are active and engaged. Game pedagogy uses students’ knowledge of games and playing, which increases their agency of their own learning. Teachers do not necessarily have to have broad knowledge or personal experience on games – their role is to structure and support student-centred learning (Nousiainen et al. 2018).

Games can be used to incite discussion on both games themselves and themes relevant to school subjects. Credits: Riikka Aurava.

Game pedagogy involves analysing games, talking about games, and playing, and making games

Adolescent students’ knowledge of games could be utilised in several school subjects. For example, games familiar to students could be connected to the theoretical content by analysing their narrative plots, stories, ethical dilemmas, music, mechanics, and visual design. Connecting theory and game elements could spark students’ interest and exemplify how information learned in school connects to other contexts, thus stimulating an in-depth understanding of subjects.

Music, voice acting, and other audio design is an integral part of games. Credits: Riikka Aurava.

There are plenty of educational games or game-like applications that can be used in subjects like sports, languages, maths, and science. Sometimes teachers think that to use such a game, they would need to be familiar with the whole range of games to pick one that suits their current group, curricular content, and schedule. Instead, pairs or teams of students could be given the task to pick one game or app and study and compare it to the course materials. Then, the whole group could discuss and compare their findings, deepening their understanding of the theme.

Students’ own experiences of playing games and taking part in other game-related activities can offer a fruitful starting point for discussions in classrooms. The common everyday experiences of playing, negotiating screen time with parents, meeting friends in online games, watching gameplay streams and videos, or coming across inappropriate language or behaviour in game chats relate to themes that are central to several subjects, like for example psychology, health education, and environmental education.

Students can also create new games. Game creation can combine subjects like music, visual arts, computer science, and languages. Additionally, any school subject could be tied to game making if the games would be educational or thematic. There are easy-to-use and free game creation software available for making digital games, so neither teachers nor students need to have previous technical skills. Not all games have to be digital, though. Making board games, card games, or even creating a new sport will also further computationally thinking and systemic understanding.

General upper secondary school students creating rules for new sports. They tested the games and rewrote rules several times. Credits: Riikka Aurava.

Societal impact of game pedagogy

Integrating games in schools would not only be valuable for individuals themselves, but for the whole society. It would increase students’ own agency in learning as well as have a beneficial effect on health and wellbeing. As participation in (digital) game culture can work as a ladder for later studies and career in technology, IT, and innovation (e.g., Aurava & Meriläinen 2022; Baxter-Webb 2015; Chen et al. 2017), inclusion of games in schools would further adolescents’ equal opportunities and level the role of gender, race, and socio-economic background.

Technology and IT industries in Finland are in sore need of workforce (Teknologiateollisuus 2021). Further, at the moment both game culture and technology are dominated by White cis-men with a middle-class background, in Finland (Bairoh & Putila 2021; Neogames 2023; Teknologiateollisuus 2023) and worldwide (e.g., Baxter-Webb 2015; Kerr 2006), which is problematic for the industry, as diversity in staff is proven to be a factor for success (e.g., Weststar & Legault 2018). Offering equal opportunities for game culture participation in schools would support the inclusivity, accessibility, and diversity goals of the industry. Breaking gendered roles in working life as well as in society at large would in turn increase mental health and well-being. [See more about diversity in game industry]

Making digital games in schools lowers the barrier for other digital participation. Credits: Riikka Aurava.
Author bio

Riikka Aurava is finalising her PhD on school related game jam events in the Tampere Game Research Lab of the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies. She was a general upper secondary school teacher for 15 years before her academic career. Her research interests include adolescents’ game culture participation, tabletop role playing games, actual play, fan communities, game streaming, fictional libraries, dice, dragons, and coffee. More on www.riikkaaurava.fi 

Credits: Riikka Aurava.


Aurava, R. (2018). Peli ja leikki kansallisessa opetussuunnitelmassa. Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirja 2018. Retrieved September 2023 https://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2018/peli-ja-leikki-kansallisessa-opetussuunnitelmassa

Aurava, R., & Meriläinen, M. (2022). Expectations and realities: Examining adolescent students’ game jam experiences. Education and Information Technologies 27, 4399–4426. DOI: 10.1007/s10639-021-10782-y

Aurava, R., Meriläinen, M., Kankainen, V., & Stenros, J. (2021). Game jams in general formal education. International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction 28. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijcci.2021.100274 

Bairoh, S. & Putila, S. (2021). ”Pätevät naiset eivät etene” vai ”naisia suositaan”? Sukupuoleen perustuvan syrjinnän ristiriitaiset kokemukset tekniikan korkeakoulutettujen työpaikoilla. Työelämän tutkimus 19:4. DOI: 10.37455/tt.112502 

Baxter-Webb, J. (2015). How Geek Kids Get Geek Jobs: a Cross-Generational Inquiry into Digital Play and Young Adults’ Careers in IT. PhD Thesis for Canterbury Christ Church University.  Retrieved March 2, 2023, from https://repository.canterbury.ac.uk/download/0fca7454950894b9cbc254c1ef0cb01a5da84413ef50dc56a158025f89d1b690/2279946/Baxter-Webb.pdf

Bourgonjon, J., De Grove, F., De Smet, C., Van Looy, J., Soetaert, R. & Valcke, M. (2013). Acceptance of game-based learning by secondary school teachers. Computers & Education 67, 21-35. DOI: 10.1016/j.compedu.2013.02.010

Chen, Y., de la Mora, A., & Kemis, M. (2017). Recruiting and Retaining Women in Information Technology Programs: Practices and Challenges in Iowa Community Colleges. New Directions for Community Colleges 178. 79-90. DOI: 10.1002/cc.20255

FNAE (2016). National Core Curriculum for Basic Education 2014, 2nd edition. Finnish National Agency for Education Publications 2016:5. 

Kahila, J., Tedre, M., Kahila, S., Vartiainen, H., Valtonen, T., & Mäkitalo, K. (2020). Children’s gaming involves much more than the gaming itself: A study of the metagame among 12- to 15- year-old children. Convergence. DOI: 10.1177/1354856520979482

Kerr, A. (2006). The Business and Culture of Digital Games: Gamework and Gameplay. London: SAGE Publications. DOI: 10.4135/9781446211410  

Kinnunen, J., Tuomela, M., & Mäyrä, F. (2022): Pelaajabarometri 2022: Kohti uutta normaalia. Tampere: Tampereen yliopisto. Retrieved September 2023. https://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-03-2732-3 

Martín del Pozo, M., Basilotta Gómez-Pablos, V., & García-Valcárcel Muñoz-Repiso, A. (2017). A quantitative approach to pre-service primary school teachers’ attitudes towards collaborative learning with video games: previous experience with video games can make the difference. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education 14:11. DOI: 10.1186/s41239-017-0050-5

Meriläinen, M. (2020). Kohti pelisivistystä: Nuorten digitaalinen pelaaminen ja pelihaitat kotien kasvatuskysymyksenä. Kasvatustieteellisiä tutkimuksia 66. Helsinki: Helsingin yliopisto. Retrieved September 2023 http://hdl.handle.net/10138/309143 

Meriläinen, M., & Ruotsalainen, M. (2023). The light, the dark, and everything else: making sense of young people’s digital gaming. Frontiers in Psychology 14. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1164992

Mård, N., & Hilli, C. (2022). Towards a didactic model for multidisciplinary teaching – a didactic analysis of multidisciplinary cases in Finnish primary schools. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 54:2, 243-258, DOI: 10.1080/00220272.2020.1827044

Neogames (2023). Finnish Game Industry Report 2022. Retrieved September 2023 from https://neogames.fi/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/FGIR2022report.pdf

Niemelä, M. A., & Tirri, K. (2018). Teachers’ Knowledge of Curriculum Integration: A Current Challenge for Finnish Subject Teachers. In Weinberger, Y., & Libman, Z. (Eds.), Contemporary Pedagogies in Teacher Education and Development. IntechOpen. DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.75870

Nousiainen, T., Kangas, M., Rikala, J., & Vesisenaho, M. (2018). Teacher competencies in game-based pedagogy. Teaching and Teacher Education 74, 85–97. DOI: 10.1016/j.tate.2018.04.012 

OECD (2020). Curriculum Overload: A Way Forward. OECD Publishing: Paris, DOI: 10.1787/3081ceca-en.

Pasanen, T., & Meriläinen, M. (2022). Pelien yhteiskunnalliset uhkakuvat. In Friman, U., Arjoranta, J., Kinnunen, J., Heljakka, K., & Stenros, J. (Eds.) Pelit kulttuurina. Vastapaino: Tampere. Retrived September 2023. https://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:tuni-202205034272 

Tarvainen, K., Manner, J., Myllyniemi, S., & Salasuo, M. (2023). Harrastaminen ja vapaa-aika. In Aapola-Kari (Ed.) Vaihteleva vapaa-aika. Lasten ja nuorten vapaa-aikatutkimus 2022. Nuorisotutkimusseuran julkaisuja 244. Retrieved September 2023 https://tietoanuorista.fi/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/FINAL_vapaa-aikatutkimus-2022-web.pdf

Teknologiateollisuus (2021). Selvitys: Teknologiateollisuus tarvitsee 10 vuoden sisällä 130 000 uutta osaajaa. Retrieved September 2023 from https://teknologiateollisuus.fi/fi/ajankohtaista/tiedote/selvitys-teknologiateollisuus-tarvitsee-10-vuoden-sisalla-130-000-uutta

Teknologiateollisuus (2023). Miten saamme lisää naisia teknologia-alalle? Retrieved September 2023 from https://teknologiateollisuus.fi/fi/ajankohtaista/miten-saamme-lisaa-naisia-teknologia-alalle-satu-marjo

Weststar, J. & Legault, M. (2018). Women’s Experiences on the Path to a Career in Game Development. In K. L. Gray, G. Voorhees, E. Voossen (Eds.), Feminism in Play (pp. 105-123). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-90539-6_7 

Whitton, N. (2014). Digital Games and Learning. Research and Theory. Routledge: New York and London. DOI: 10.4324/9780203095935