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Home » Playing with Stories, Learning with Games: Special Edition for ELA Today 

Playing with Stories, Learning with Games: Special Edition for ELA Today 

As a group of six language educators exploring the learning potential of commercial video games, we jumped at the opportunity to put this special edition of ELA Today together. The six pieces included in this edition draw upon our experiences using video games to foster diverse educational opportunities across contexts – from ELA classrooms and youth centers, to learning at home with our own children. 

Motivated by a desire to honour and include varied textual formats and youths’ out-of-school interests within language-learning contexts, our attention turned toward the wide world of video games. While popular discourse often positions youth gaming as ‘derelict’ or ‘wasted time’, our experiences teaching with the digital medium have combated these unfounded notions. Instead, the articles developed for this special edition will describe the ways in which video games can provide unique opportunities for players to better understand the world around them while honing diverse literacy skills, critical analytic strategies, and collaborative socialization across learning contexts. 

While the catalog of video game genres and titles is indeed vast, our collective backgrounds and passion for complex literary texts have mainly focused our attention on story/narrative-focused games: featuring robust storylines with interactive pathways, complex characters journeying enticing arcs, and elaborate graphics accompanied by compelling soundtracks. We quickly learned that integrating story/narrative-focused games into the ELA classroom could provide for robust learning experiences encompassing our students’ visual, auditory, and tactile senses. 

As with any textual format, it became important to gain a better understanding of how exactly these story/narrative-focused games could be navigated and analyzed by adolescents within classroom contexts. While educators can adopt countless approaches and lenses, a critical playthrough methodology is detailed by ELA educator and PhD student Emily Mannard in her article, “gamesRlit: Critical Playthroughs of Young-Adult Video Games”. In order to provide a more nuanced dive into this emerging methodology, ELA educator and recent MATL graduate Toby Ma reflects on his experience employing the critical gameplay framework while navigating various storydriven video games in his article, “Building The Library: Reflections on the Young-Adult Narrative Video Game Genre”. 

While this gameplay methodology certainly helps to lay a preliminary foundation for educators wanting to include games in their curriculum, there are numerous additional considerations that must be taken into account. In his piece, “Going Beyond the Idea: Some Suggestions for Practical Video Game Implementation”, ELA educator and recent B.Ed. graduate Jaeden Wilson addresses three main obstacles educators may face: cost, acquiring games, and technology issues. As a literary medium not yet popularized within learning contexts, educators must also consider the small number of resources available to assist with video game implementation. The countless activity ideas, companion text suggestions, and teacher feedback readily accessible for more traditional textual formats are far more difficult to find when it comes to games. To help remedy this, ELA educator and recent B.Ed. graduate Josh Cross has developed a comprehensive unit plan for a narrative-based video game that features daily objectives, practical assessment suggestions, and connections to the Quebec Education Program’s ELA competencies in his article, “Including Video Games in the Classroom: Unit Planning What Remains of Edith Finch”. 

The final two articles developed for this special edition will shift discussions from theoretical to practical implementations through two detailed accounts of young individuals learning through games. In their piece, “Never Alone on the Animal Farm: Teaching Video Games in an ELA Classroom”, Matthew McCarthey and Toby Ma – ELA educators and recent MATL graduates – detail their experiences using games as companion texts with their Secondary 1 and 4 students. Tatiana Becerra – English as a Foreign Language educator and PhD student – then shifts the discussion to an informal learning context as she describes the literacy-learning processes she observed through her nine-year-old daughter’s Minecraft gameplay in her article, “Literacy and Learning through Video Games: My Daughter’s Case”. 

While we, the six educators writing for this special edition, are well aware that our contributions only scratch the surface when considering the incredible potential of video games for classroom learning, we hope they provide a nice foundation for any educators, administrators, youth workers, or parents interested in learning more about gaming and ELA. If you have any questions, feedback, or would like more information on our work, please reach out to us through the contact information below. 

Writing Team & Contact Information

Emily Mannard, editor and author: emily.mannard@mail.mcgill.ca 
Jaeden Wilson, author: jaeden.wilson@mail.mcgill.ca 
Josh Cross, author: joshua.cross2@mail.mcgill.ca 
Matthew McCarthey, author: matthew.mccarthey@mail.mcgill.ca 
Tatiana Becerra Posada, author: tatiana.becerra@mail.mcgill.ca 
Toby Ma, author: tobias.ma@mail.mcgill.ca