Video games are not a common resource for teachers. Although there are some fascinating exceptions, mainstream games are generally too complex and confusing to tease out potential curriculum benefits.
Where games are used, they are generally a novelty rather than the central element of the lesson. You may already be reaching for the comment box to disagree. There are a lot of amazing teachers who do use games in amazing ways. But the point is that this requires expert knowledge and a considerable investment of time.
The missing piece in this puzzle is information about video games in a form that teachers can easily reference and instantly know if the game could deliver the learning and experience that they are after.
Simple, searchable database
This is a mountain Andy Robertson (@GeekDadGamer) has started to climb on the Family Video Game Database. It’s a catalogue of over 1000 games designed to uncover their age-appropriateness (or inappropriateness), benefits, costs and time investment. It started as a project to help parents find better games for their children to play once they were sick of Fortnite, but it is growing into something bigger.
He will be extending this through the year so there is still work to do. What you can do currently is search for a game on different topics through the lists of games on the site. For example, if you are looking to engage children with literature and reading you could start by looking at the list of games created with the National Literacy Trust that help “Get Children Reading”.
From here you can pick an age-rating that’s appropriate for your class. Perhaps Reading games for children 12 and under. From here you could specify whether you want games to be played individually or in groups. You can select the technology you have got in school, or maybe pick a console you can bring in and plug into the whiteboard.
This process will result in discovering different games depending on what you are looking for. But some examples of the diverse offerings help illustrate why it’s worth spending time here.
Some of the gems inside…
Penrose is a game where you read a text adventure. As you read (alone or in a group) it starts as a story about descending into an unknown building. But then you notice that some words are highlighted. You can select these and choose to change the word. For example, you find a generator in the building. But you can change the text so that it is either on or off. One word means there is no light while the other word means there will be. But if you change the word to on, there are also then alarm systems you have to navigate later in the text.
Heaven’s Vault is a game where you play an archaeologist translating an ancient alien language whose decrypting weaves through an unfolding drama. While doing real linguistic work you interact with companions and locals. Your choices can open or close vast swathes of investigative opportunities. In turn, this directs the branching narrative in different ways. Intelligent guesswork is required to translate a large number of inscriptions, while deciphering the motivations of those around you. An ingenious timeline documents every move, and a brief synopsis each time you start playing keeps things accessible even to infrequent players.
Ord is an unusual text adventure, rather than one grand story, you embark on a series of distinct quests. Whether it’s defeating an evil warlock or creating your own world as a god, Ord tells stories through simple series of words and word associations that respond to your choices with evocative fast-paced narratives.
Typoman is a running, jumping puzzle game where you use letters and words to solve puzzles and progress. You play as a character made of letters in a hostile land with evil creatures. As this unusual character, you make your way through the world solving puzzles and avoiding enemy monsters to complete each chapter.
These games have been used in classroom settings in powerful ways. Not only supporting existing learning plans but extending things in new directions. In many cases they offer games that are affordable and playable on a wide range of technology so that children can continue playing at home. Some, like A Dark Room, can be played in a browser.
Find out more
Sounds good? Hear more from Andy in his recent chat with Mark Anderson: