Using video games in the classroom is one of the most exciting concepts I’ve come across as a new teacher. Dozens of lesson plans spring to mind at the mere mention of the idea. However, despite that enthusiasm, actually getting started is a daunting task: Are video games accessible to me or just a fantasy? What games should I play? How do I get my hands on enough games for a class? Do we have the tech to run games?
Using video games in ELA classrooms is a new approach, so there aren’t as many structures set up to give you access to content as there are for books or films. There’s no starting point laid out for educators who want to use video games: you can’t simply walk into a bookroom or grab a copy from the library (at least, most of the time you can’t). While perhaps not as easily accessible as more traditional textual formats, there are options for teachers out there. At the end of the day, it comes down to knowing where to look, getting creative, and being willing to take some risks.
In trying to figure out the practical side of implementing video games in the classroom, three main obstacles quickly become clear: the high cost, actually acquiring games, and tech trouble. Each of these obstacles can be daunting at first, but having a starting point makes them feel much easier to overcome.
Considering the Cost
Cost is probably the most daunting factor when you consider the practical side of bringing games into the classroom. Popular games can go for up to $90, and you’re likely to want a class set or at least several copies to be able to use them effectively. That’s a hefty price tag that may not seem worth it, especially when trying a new approach that you may not even enjoy. High quality narrative-based games made by small developers, however, go for much less. Oftentimes they have the same price range as novels do, and video games go on sale a lot more often with much bigger discounts, so the cost of the games themselves isn’t astronomical.
Regardless of cost, however, you’ll find that you can save money by contacting the publisher, explaining that you’re a teacher looking to make a bulk purchase, and asking for a discounted price. I’ve listed two companies below who have confirmed their willingness to offer a discount to teachers in need. With this in mind, requesting funding for a class set of the right game wouldn’t cost much more than a request for a class set of a new novel.
Publishers Poised to Help
Akupara Games: Akupara games has published a number of video games, notably Mutazione (2019), and are enthusiastic about collaborating with educators. If you decide you want to use one of their games, contact the publisher team@akuparagames and they’ll match or beat their best discount offered on the game to date!
The Fullbright Company: The Fullbright Company, publisher of ‘Polygon’s 2013 Game of the Year’ Gone Home, has also shown enthusiastic support for educators. If you’d like to use their games in the classroom, contact them at email@example.com and they’ll offer $5 USD per copy of Gone Home and are happy to discuss discounts on their other game, Tacoma.
Look in the Library
Like any good project, getting video games into the classroom starts with your librarian. A trip down to your school library can let you know whether you already have access to any games. Some schools pay for access to games like Minecraft Education Edition, which are specifically targeted at teachers for use with students. Your librarian can let you know about any games you have access to and how you can get started with them should you decide to. At the very least, they’ll know who to reach out to as a next step, if required. Schools sometimes also have physical copies of games and consoles to play them on. Deciding to use a game in your class can be as easy as familiarising yourself with the resources your school already offers. Keep in mind, however, that it’s likely only one or two students will be able to play at once. While not an insurmountable obstacle, it’s definitely something you’ll have to consider while planning.
Even if your library doesn’t already have access to games that you’d like to use in your classroom, your trip wasn’t wasted! Your librarian can help you navigate the process of requesting funding for the materials required to teach games. If, for whatever reason, your librarian isn’t available to help with any of this, ask a teacher or member of staff with more experience starting projects who can help to guide you. Different schools have different procedures for funding teaching initiatives like this, which is why finding someone with experience can be helpful. Generally, however, what you’ll need at the core of any request is an ironclad rationale. Why do you want to start this project? How will it benefit students? Why pay for games when you could just use books the school already has for ELA? How will game-based learning benefit the school? It also helps to know your school culture: What do they value? How do they want their school to look? How can video games help emphasize what the school community values most in learning? Being able to play to your administration’s wants will be an asset if they’re hesitant about your ideas.
If you can’t get access to games through more formal routes, you can always get creative with your approach. A used console drive might bring you unexpected gems: have students and teachers bring in old game consoles and games they don’t use anymore. You’ll probably end up with some interesting stuff you can use in the classroom, or at least some consoles you can buy used games for. While you’re unlikely to get a class set through this method, you’ll have the tools necessary to begin using games in your classroom. Work from there and see where it takes you!
You can also hold a regular fundraiser, put together some cash, and buy older consoles and games at thrift shops or used game stores for relatively little money. This would give you more control over what you get, but you’ll still be limited to whatever these places have on hand.
Despite the less than ideal nature of these options for classroom use, they can still lead to fun and thoughtful engagement with video games in your lessons. These methods also provide a first opportunity to show how video games can be beneficial in ELA. You can gain examples that can be used to apply for funding with more concrete evidence that video games can be valuable in ELA education.
Let’s Talk Tech
No matter what, you’ll need to know what tech you have access to while teaching video games. Some schools have every student bring in their own laptop, some have laptop or tablet carts for full classes, and some have very limited tech available. You’ll undoubtedly already be aware of those basic facts, but adding the additional consideration of video games can be tricky.
Different games run on different operating systems, but usually you’ll only have to consider Apple’s MacOS and Windows when it comes to computers and make sure the chosen game can run on what you have at your disposal. When it comes to mobile devices like tablets and phones, you’ll have to find games that run on both iOS and Android because your students may have a mix of both. This information is usually clearly displayed when you’re buying a game, but you can also look it up fairly easily if you have any doubts. A simple ‘does [game title] run on [software name] in your preferred search engine should give you a clear answer. You’ll also need to make sure your tech can run the game. Some games need a more heavy duty device to run properly. Without the right computer, the game might constantly crash or never open. This information is also clearly displayed when you buy a game, but it can be hard to understand. If you aren’t sure, ask a colleague, a tech-savvy student, or contact IT.
A final tech note is that games can take a long time to download (especially on school wifi), so try to make sure you or your students have everything set up before class begins. Even a game you play on a console with a physical copy will have to be downloaded the first time you play it, so plan ahead!
Getting started with video games in your classroom can be as intimidating as it is exciting, but once you find a place to start it will surely feel much more manageable. Find out what you have at your disposal and how you can get what’s lacking, and don’t be afraid to get others involved. Two English teachers are better than one, after all! With video games offering so much untapped potential in education, hopefully these points will provide a foothold from which you can begin your exploration.