Video Games in the Classroom

My experience with using video games in a high school classroom

Today, I want to write about my experiences using video games as an educational tool in my classroom. I'll start by giving you some background information, so you have a better understanding of where I am coming from. I work at the coolest private school in Washington DC, Emerson Preparatory School. I'm a third year teacher, teaching grades 9-12.

Emerson Prep is a unique learning environment, unlike any school I have encountered. The classes are very small, capping at 12 students per classroom. This is ideal for project-based learning and differentiated instruction. I teach a variety of subjects. Over the past three years I have taught Ancient Myth, Cultural Geography, Film Studies, Filmmaking, The Art and History of Graphic Novels, Psychology, and many more courses that have been absolutely amazing to teach.

Video games are a teaching tool that I feel are often overlooked by educators. I understand that in some schools it may be nearly impossible to incorporate video games in the classroom due to time constraints, standardized testing, class size, and possibly a limited budget, but I'd like to share my experiences and offer suggestions for how you might consider using games in your classroom.

The first time I tried using a video game in the classroom was when I was teaching Psychology. At the time the classroom had 9 students. Students were studying how fear effects the body physically and mentally, and they were questioning why humans are often attracted to media that is fear-inducing (horror movies, horror literature, etc.). After much deliberation I decided to conduct an experiment with them using Amnesia: The Dark Descent by Frictional Games. Amnesia has some graphic scenes, that being said the first part of the game is frightening, but ultimately mild and easily digested by high school juniors and seniors. 

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a horror game, played for first-person perspective. You play as a man named, Daniel, who wakes up in a mansion with no memory, and just a note written to himself, instructing him to kill someone. As you navigate the mansion, you are not given any weapons. The lack of weapon makes you feel helpless; the only way to survive and keep your sanity is to hide from the misfigured monsters lurking in the dark. 

For the experiment we set up my computer at the front of the room and connected it to our TV using HDMI. To create an environment suitable for game play we covered the windows with poster board in an attempt to get the room as dark as possible. We decided that one at time for approximately 10 minutes the students would trade off playing the game.

While one student was playing, the other students would observe their peer's physical state as the game progressed. They would write down their observations and hypotheses in their journals, which we would later share in order to form useful data. We varied our experiment from time to time during the class period. Some students would use headphones while they played while others did not. Students were vocal about their video gaming experience; some students were veteran gamers, and for others this was the first time they had played a video game. We took all of this into consideration as we observed the player's reactions to the game.

Their journals were filled with notes about how some students were scared while playing, but pressed onward into the descent, while others were too frightened to move forward. They concluded that playing this particular game with headphones was much more immersing than playing without them. Students also recognized that non-gamers were at a significant disadvantage. Due to their lack of experience this would be a somewhat stressful activity even if it hadn't been a horror game. At the conclusion of the experiment students wrote about possible flaws in the experimentation process, and attempted to design a more effective way of measuring people's reactions to horror games.

This activity was an overwhelming success. Students learned how create an experiment, how to record data, analyze their findings, and how to pick out flaws in experimental design.

In later articles I want to provide lesson plans for other games that I have used in the classroom, and offer suggestions for how you might incorporate gaming in your lessons. The next article will feature Year Walk and Minecraft. If you have any questions or suggestions for possible games that could serve as educational tools, please share in the comment section below.

Featured Contributor

I am a console and pc gamer, who likes to incorporate this passion into fashion and decor. Check out my Youtube channel, Geek on Your Sleeve, for style help and DIY's.

Published May. 5th 2015
  • KungFro
    Correspondent
    I went to high school in the hood, where most school-sponsored clubs were sports related. One teacher really wanted to give us anime and gamer geeks a place to hangout, so he started up an afterschool gaming club. Even though it wasn't really an educational implement, he kept us off the streets and got us making friends. I cannot stress the importance of facilitating some friendly competition for the not-so physically inclined, particularly during their tense and awkward teenage years. For some, video games can very well be that thing.
  • Glen Schoeman
    Featured Contributor
    As a teacher myself, I found this very interesting. I have always found that teaching becomes infinitely more effective once you relate the material to a subject that the kids are familiar with and you have done exactly that. Well done.
  • Jessa Rittenhouse
    Columnist
    I'm a homeschooling mother, myself, and regularly incorporate all manner of games into my children's education. They really are an invaluable tool for engaging students. Besides being an immersive experience, people (not just kids, either) learn better when they're enjoying themselves, and it's easier for them to engage with a subject when their incentive to do so comes from a desire to learn, rather than the intangible reward of a letter grade on a report card.

    Wish public schools were given more leeway to use games in the classroom! You're very lucky!

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