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English Language Arts Education with Commercial Games

Can commercial games be effective teaching tools? If you’re a long-term reader of the Filament Games blog, you’ll know we’ve already answered that question in some previous posts (like here and here). The short answer is yes – if implemented correctly with an educator’s guidance. 

In fact, commercial games such as Red Dead Redemption and the Assassin’s Creed series have been incorporated into history lessons in both the US and Poland, giving students a more immersive look into historical events and settings of particular eras than textbooks can offer. City management games such as SimCity can be used to teach urban geography, while games like RoboCo can teach robotics and engineering. Video games offer open-ended learning experiences in subjects that often rely on rigid curriculums.

But what about more slippery topics, like English Language Arts?

via Giphy

In this blog, we’ll discuss how commercial games can be used in the English classroom in effective ways that teach students literary concepts like point-of-view, narrative structure, and more! If you find this post useful, be sure to bookmark it so you can return to it later. For more game-based learning wisdom, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Familiar video games result in a welcoming learning environment

For students that are reluctant readers, or students who are still getting comfortable with the amount of nuance and flexibility in the material found in the English classroom, video games can be a familiar learning environment to ease them into literary concepts. Terry Heick’s article from Edutopia called “Video Games in the English Classroom” explores how video games can have a place in the English Language Arts (ELA) classroom, despite the diverse range of content, expectations, and assessment types in the subject. Heick suggests that video games can serve as an entry point into the material. He also encourages ELA educators to embrace video games as digital learning tools by seeking student input and experimenting with their integration into the classroom.

Video games foster multiple forms of literacy

We’ve uncovered how games teach concepts like media literacy, technological literacy, and more. Though different from just plain English literacy skills, all types of literacy can complement one another for a well-rounded education. Stephen V. Kiss’s article “Video Games in the English Classroom” discusses the use of video games in the classroom to enhance students’ literacy skills, collaboration, and problem-solving abilities

Video games combine audio, image, and video technology, requiring students to interpret multiple forms of text and know how to use them simultaneously. Kiss cites research by James Paul Gee and Elisabeth R. Hayes, arguing that these are the very skills “we hope people develop in school… are central to work and life in the global, high-tech, complex-system-ridden twenty-first century.” 

Kiss also offers a video game unit example that revolves around a guided notes assignment where students interpret the video game Rise of the Tomb Raider as a form of literacy and complete a post-game reflection, considering the different types of literary elements they noticed while playing. The bottom line? Video games provide students with opportunities to learn a variety of different literacy skills, and all are important when it comes to effective ELA learning.

Which commercial video games are the best fit for the English classroom?

While there’s no one size fits all answer to this question, games that are age appropriate and have fully developed plots, long cinematic moments, and a lot of reading can be great places to start when implementing commercial games into an English lesson. 

For example, Danielle Hall from Nouvelle ELA recommends games such as Subnautica, Stardew Valley, Journey, Gone Home, and Life is Strange for secondary ELA students. Hall also provides a brief summary of the story and key elements of each game that can be used to teach literary elements such as setting, mood, and tone.

Our friends at iThrive Games also have their own guide on the subject called “How to Choose a Video Game for Learning in HS English Classrooms.” In this blog, iThrive outlines the criteria for selecting video games for high school ELA and humanities courses as part of their game-based learning units. The games need to be emotionally impactful and appeal to teenagers, with strong ties to social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies and a strong academic tie-in. They should engage all learners in narrative analysis, be mindful of the diversity of experiences and be a low-stress addition to the existing curriculum. The selection process should consider equipment requirements, game length, narrative branching, and cost. By using video game narratives as core texts, teachers can connect material more meaningfully with their students, building their social, emotional, and academic knowledge and skills.

In the past, we’ve recommended educational games for ELA learning in addition to a number of commercial games for ELA learning. Here are three more games that while not specifically designed to be educational, can improve students’ ELA skills like reading, writing, and speaking. 

80 Days

80 Days is a narrative-driven game where players take on the role of Passepartout, Phileas Fogg’s valet, and must help Fogg circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. The game features 150 cities to visit and allows players to create their own global route while engaging in personal stories within each location. The game’s alternate history setting enables exploration of the diversity of cultures and characters from different ethnicities, genders, and sexualities. While the game takes place in an alternate history that isn’t 100% accurate to the real world, the game is designed to reinforce the humanity and agency of the people in the story. 

A Memoir Blue

A Memoir Blue is an interactive poem created by Cloisters Interactive that tells the story of a famous athlete and the profound bond between a mother and daughter. The game features a captivating mix of hand-drawn and 3D art that brings the main character, Miriam’s, journey to life. Through various gameplay vignettes, players are taken on a journey of sacrifice, heartbreak, victory, and pride as Miriam reconnects with her inner child and strengthens her relationship with her mother by exploring her memories.

SEASON: A letter to the future

SEASON: A letter to the future is a game where you play as a young woman on a bicycle trip, exploring the world and collecting memories before an impending cataclysm destroys everything. Players document, photograph, and record the world around them, unraveling its culture, history, and ecology. As the game progresses, players meet emotionally complex characters and make difficult choices that could affect the story’s ending. The game features a highly customizable journal to record memories, a compelling narrative, and an immersive soundtrack. Players will contemplate the big questions about the world, its seasons, and its future.

Commercial video games can be incredibly effective ELA teaching tools. Video games have a widespread appeal to today’s young learners, and the potential to foster multiple forms of literacy. By integrating commercial games into ELA and humanities courses, teachers can help their students connect more deeply with the material and improve their reading and writing capabilities!

If you’re thinking about creating your own ELA learning game, you’re in the right place. Contact us for a free consultation. In our 18-year tenure in the game-based learning industry, we’ve created ELA games for clients such as Scholastic, Publications International, and Square Panda.  

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