How can games help us to develop a more socially inclusive classroom?

In his Good video games and good learning Gee (2005) identifies a total of 16 learning principles that are incorporated into good games. In outlining his Risk Taking principle Gee states that players are encouraged to take risks, explore, and try new things (p. 35). Deyenberg (2013) states that video games are a viable option to explore for students with physical disabilities, allowing them the opportunity to move and explore in a virtual world that which they cannot in the physical world (p. 11).

There are several perceived affordances in the design of educational games. Traditionally, people with disabilities have not always been able to access the learning they need when they need it. Educational games have largely overcome that problem by providing a range of options whereby a player with a physical disability can interact with a game without having to use a joystick, a mouse or even a keyboard. In other words, depending upon the game they are playing, they can play the game by using voice commands and/or gestures. Similarly, a player with a mild cognitive disability such as Dyslexia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may become highly motivated and engaged when playing a well designed educational game.

As well as that, according to Gee’s list of learning principles, players experience a sense of agency or control when playing games. In game-based learning environments, the player can customise many aspects of the game to fit their learning and playing styles (p. 35). This affordance means that whereas previously, learners had no input into their own learning, with the advent of educational games, players now have much more control. As an example, at the start of Civilization V: Brave New World a player will first need to decide whether to play the game as a single player or a multiplayer. After that, if they’ve chosen to play as a single player then they have the option of customising their experience of the game by selecting from a range of setup options including civilization, map size, and difficulty level. Once play is underway, the player will typically work towards a goal, choosing actions and experiencing the consequences of those actions along the way.

Gee (2005) outlines his learning principle of performance before competence and states that players can perform before they are competent, supported by the design of the game (p. 37). In other words, in a game, a player is free to make mistakes without fear of being judged and/or ridiculed. He or she can play the same level over and over until they finally gain the competence they need to level up. Conversely, in an educational setting, learners are rarely encouraged to gain competence in this way. They are normally tasked with gaining competence by reading texts. They’re not allowed to just experiment until they get it right. They have to do the prescribed reading so that, when given the order to do so, they can get it right on their first attempt.

In summary, educational games are a powerful tool to be used by the teacher to create a more socially inclusive classroom since they provide a safe environment for repeated practice without a sense of failure.



Deyenberg, J. (2013). Video games in an inclusive learning environment. Retrieved from

Gee, J. P. (2005). Good video games and good learning. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85(2), 33-37.

Digital games are most definitely still being overlooked in ‘digital education’ reform


I’ve been working in higher education for many years and I can honestly say that I don’t recall ever having encountered any form of game-based learning. Several years ago, as a challenge to myself, I created a guided, digital crossword puzzle but that was predicated on the students already knowing the answers. In other words, it didn’t involve the students learning by doing or learning from doing. In order to complete the puzzle, the students simply needed to know the answer to the question or the missing word.

As a professional educator, I’ve been hearing about game-based learning for some years. The 2011 Higher Ed Edition of the annual NMC Horizon Report predicted that game-based learning would gain widespread usage within two to three years, however that hasn’t really eventuated. I suspect there has been piecemeal takeup in secondary education but I’m struggling to think of a credible example of game-based learning in higher education that I’ve heard about through my Personal Learning Network (PLN).

In 2013 I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Jeffrey Brand from Bond University. Professor Brand has developed a career exploring the cognitive and behavioural effects of electronic media on young audiences and has been known to hold classes in Minecraft.

As highlighted by Josh Jennings in his excellent article titled Teachers re-evaluate value of video games, in Australia at least, there are distinct barriers to the widespread adoption of game-based learning. In particular, there’s a definite cultural barrier in the sense that many educators still think of playing games as time-wasting. In their view, students don’t play games to learn. They play games to avoid doing what they should be doing which is their homework.

Having read Jane McGonigal’s provocative book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, I’m convinced there’s a place for game-based learning in higher education. I’m just not sure what that place will look like. Plus I think the jury is still out on the effectiveness (or otherwise) of game-based learning as an instructional strategy to engage students in higher education. As per the article, I think we need more longitudinal studies on the subject.

In fact, apart from the fact that I’m keen to learn more about game-based learning, my main reason for doing this particular subject is that I hope to be able to influence my peers both now and in the future to seriously consider game-based learning as a legitimate, sustainable instructional strategy.

For game-based learning to have any chance of succeeding we need to encourage innovative teaching practice. We need educators who are prepared to take risks both face-to-face and online in the hope that by doing so they will be able to engage their students and improve student outcomes.


Jennings, J. (2014, November 30). Teachers re-evaluate value of video games. In The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. Penguin.