The Guilt of Gaming

(Want to give the game a try? Click here to play my video game)

You know there is that the famous axiom about writing: Write what you know.

And I have the Charlie Parker quote here in my blog as my tagline: If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.

So why am I feeling a bit guilty about playing video games in my spare moments? Isn’t a corollary of those sayings: You need to play the game to teach the game?

I have been introducing game design to my sixth grade students (moving towards a STEM-centered game design project later next month) and while I am open to their insights and inputs (most of them have way more gaming experience than I do), I know I need to keep up my skills on video games, too. I need to speak their language and I need to at least convince them that I sort of know what I am talking about (even if I have to fake it once in a while). Still, every time I pop into a gaming site that we use, I feel this little twinge of guilt.

Is this really what I should be doing with my time?

The other day at school, we had our parent conferences. The meetings went fine, but a few parents wanted to know more about the spelling and mechanics strategies that we are using in sixth grade. They reminisced about “the old days” of ELA, when students used pages of worksheets to drill a skill into their heads. I don’t do that.  I laid out what we do to help them, by revisiting spelling strategies and making a difference between published work and draft work, and editing. I talked of using technology as a tool (we have a number of Spelling Ace devices in the room, and a load of dictionaries, and they are encouraged to ask an outside reader to help find errors).

Somewhere, though, I heard this inner voice saying that maybe I should just drop game design as a part of a writing curriculum, and focus on writing mechanics and spelling lessons. Maybe my classroom should return to the days of ELA as I remember it — the drills on skills. I even found myself shaking my head in agreement when one parent bemoaned how electronic devices are turning kids off from reading books. It’s true. It is.

And yet here I am, teaching and encouraging gaming.

I try to shake off this inner voice reservation with the conviction that I work many of those basic writing skills into any project, including gaming. They will be keeping a game design journal, making storyboards, writing a narrative project that guides their game, etc, — all of which will require finished/finalized writing that meet high expectations around spelling and grammar. I remind myself about the need for more visual literacy skills (all data from our state testing shows this as a major weakness with our students). I remember the way all of my students — four classes worth of sixth graders — were incredibly engaged in constructing a simple video game the other day. I keep telling myself that this is a good path to be on.

But I still feel this twinge of guilt. It must be a parent-thing. Or a teacher-thing, Or an adult-thing. Gaming can’t be learning if its entertainment, right?

Peace (as I return to the game),


  1. I don’t think you should feel bad. Clearly games require the player to learn and yet video, ebooks and other media don’t have to justify themselves daily as valid technologies, and games don’t need to either. Yes play! only then do you see the patterns and schemes. And kids play a lot, research is consistent here.

    Essentially games are about performance toward competency, where as education is competency then performance. It’s how the edu-game is played, if you want to keep learning, then you have to show competency first. Games are about performance, creativity and re-trying what doesn’t work – and often what does.

    Games designers however, don’t factor in the need to a teacher to teach-players how to learn. It isn’t that games are more entertaining, it’s just that they are better designed. You can try kids on text-adventure making, Kodu, Minecraft … they will not only warm to it, but exceed. The trick is to see yourself as the game-play maker … and that in my experience is a great place to be right now. It doesn’t have to be a video-game – the entire classroom or school cab be the game-world – if that’s how you make the play happen.

    • Thanks, Dean.
      Your comments about the larger picture of Game Designers is important to keep in mind. I am trying to find ways to shift the experience of “game player” to “game maker” for my students, so they have some agency when it comes to technology.

  2. Thanks for the previous post about reading. I agree & will share it with the teachers I work with. Hopefully they’ll share with their parents. And, today’s post: My school embeds the skills in every kind of project the students do, so I’m with you all the way in your gaming & any other project that will be motivating for the students. Don’t return to the worksheets; gaming is much more fun!

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