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 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).
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.
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.
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]
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.
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