Inspiration for Educators: Creating and Implementing Lessons Using Video Games

Interview with Dani Velasco Sánchez, Coordinator of Social and Labor Dynamization and Coordination with Local High Schools at the Espai Jove Casa Sagnier in Barcelona.

As followers of the Gaming for Skills project may know, we have already created over 80 pedagogical sequences to introduce and facilitate the use of video games in the classroom, and we are currently testing these sequences in both formal and non-formal educational contexts.

To illuminate both the importance and the creative process of crafting and implementing lessons using video games, we spoke with Dani Velasco Sánchez, an expert in the creation, dynamization and management of cultural and educational projects with extensive experience in using video games for educational and socio-cultural purposes. He is currently the Coordinator of Social and Labor Dynamization and Coordination with Local High Schools at the Espai Jove Casa Sagnier, a public youth center dedicated to cultural dissemination and promotion in the Sarrià- Sant Gervasi district of Barcelona.

This interview has been synthesized, translated, and edited for clarity.


Video games as tools for fostering creativity and learning

Although the field of video games is relatively new, it is especially interesting for educators because it can play an important role in augmenting students’ creativity and their opportunities for learning in formal and non-formal contexts. Video games are a space for creation and cultural expression just like literature and cinema are, although they are not often connected to academia or other formal disciplines in the same way. In fact, video games are often criticized (and not always unfairly!), but these criticisms do not focus on their intrinsic and artistic merits, as we often see with cinema. Instead, there is a general social conception of video games as being merely a hobby or pastime, even though they are much more than that. Above all, they are a tool for education and cultural expression. Ever since Erasmus of Rotterdam’s time, there has been a long tradition of games being not only ludic, but also instructive and educational. In reality, video games are simulations of real-life situations, and they offer endless opportunities to practice responding to situations or solving problems that we will encounter again and again.

The creative process: How do you create a lesson using video games?

The first step of the creation process is to define what you want to transmit to your students: What do you want them to learn? Which concepts, skills, or competencies are you looking to develop through the lesson?

Next, you have to think about which video game best serves these purposes. It is equally important to consider what kinds of interactions you want students to have, since this will help define the types of exercises you will include.

It is also very helpful to look up examples of how others use video games in educational settings. You might have an idea that you like a certain game, say Age of Empires or Mini Metro, but not know exactly how you can use it, since the goal isn’t just to play the game, but also to design a lesson that includes the game as a catalyst for learning something. This is where it is helpful to see what others have done.

Finally, it can be fruitful to look at your local school curriculum and get inspired regarding the specific competencies that students should be developing. It’s always a good idea to try to choose different skills and competencies, rather than focusing on just one area. This is one reason the Gaming for Skills project is so interesting: it shows us how games can be applied in a variety of courses or areas of study, from science and literature to physical education and ethics.

Photo by: cottonbro on Pexels

Implementing the sequences: The objectives and challenges of using video games in education

The primary objective of any educational session involving video games is for students to learn something. This is especially true in formal education and pedagogical contexts. However, since the Espai Jove (youth space) at Casa Sagnier is a non-formal educational space, we also have the objectives of creating and fostering relationships, whether these are between participants, with a larger group, or in a cultural sense.

We have offered several workshops for young people using the sequences for the Gaming for Skills project. In these workshops, we seek to use video games to create greater opportunities for socio-educational dynamization. Using Minecraft in these sessions has been successful because it is already so popular. It is a good excuse to bring together a group of students who already enjoy the game, and then to use this as a space to offer additional help in certain social or educational areas. The game therefore becomes a tool for imparting additional knowledge in a school subject or offering extra help in practicing soft skills, especially teamwork and relationship building.

Our team also travels to secondary schools to offer workshops directly in the classroom, as well as coordinating the visits of high school students to our facilities. The objectives of formal and non-formal educational settings can often go hand-in-hand, but there are certainly differences: for example, the formal learning outcomes highlighted in formal education spaces are different from the relationship building and social dynamization we try to encourage in non-formal education spaces like the Espai Jove’s after-school programs.

However, these can still work together well! For example, we recently held a workshop focused on the topic of screen addiction. The first part of the workshop featured a talk by a psychologist who specializes in addictions to screen usage (phones, computers, video games, etc.), where she discussed the pros and cons of extended screen time. The second part of the workshop then focused on the process of creating video games as an alternative and more productive form of using screens to expand your creativity, knowledge and skills, as opposed to other, more abusive uses of screen time, such as mobile phone games that are purposely designed with addictive elements.

The challenge in implementing these sequences with video games is not to attract students to the workshops, but rather to attract them to new ways of playing or using games, since young people are often used to playing games in a very specific way. Rather than letting students play freely, we try to introduce them to new games with content in different disciplines or use the games they already know to learn new things and/or connect with one another. We as educators have to serve as guides and be able to challenge students, even the ones who are the most interested in video games, to expand their uses of games and stay curious. There is certainly a component of helping students find new uses that are more conscious and ethical. Another important component is learning how to self-administer the time they spend playing games, or to diversify the ways they use games in their free time. After all, video games can definitely be a form of leisure and entertainment, but we want students to reflect on how they use their free time. We want them to ask themselves: How can we enjoy video games, but also learn something new or contribute something positive to our personal growth and relationships?

Photo by: Tima Miroshnichenko

The future of video games and education

Many educators and professionals in the cultural field already use video games as tools, even though they don’t work specifically in the video game industry. Up to now, in the cultural sector (and particularly in local cultural facilities), there has not been a strong focus on including professionals who are in some way linked to the world of video games, who can contribute their knowledge and practices in this field. When this is done, it usually only includes specific, one-time actions. We could certainly benefit from the creation of new, stable roles in the sector for people who coordinate the promotion and use of video games in social, educational, and cultural contexts and projects. This is true at all levels– from the gaming industry to schools and cultural centers– since the latter two are already doing the work of integrating video games into educational settings and promoting their potential as tools for personal and intellectual development.

Another interesting area is the creation of games and journalism about video games in varied languages. Barcelona has a well-developed video game sector and many game creation studios, where the vast majority are creating directly in English. Creators are starting to translate games into other languages, but not at the same rate. It is important to have not just the games themselves, but also journalistic coverage of them available in diverse languages. One interesting example is the video game magazine 3Dnassos: its founders produce very interesting content on video games in Catalan, which can be difficult to find. In fact, in the journalism world, there are very few magazines that talk about video games in Catalan.

One of the reasons that many people don’t want to create content in Catalan or other languages with fewer native speakers is because they want to reach wider audiences, especially by writing in English. However, it is important to remember that each linguistic area has its own audiences. If you create a new magazine about video games in English or Spanish, there are thousands of projects that are similar to yours and it can be difficult to differentiate yourself, to find your niche or authority. Whereas if you create content or games in other languages from the start, maybe you will actually have a greater presence in a more focused market, because you are the only ones doing this. Right now, the demand definitely exists, but if there isn’t any content on offer, then of course you can’t access it, and the cycle continues.

Finally, I think we often forget about video games as a part of the creative and cultural industries, and particularly in the context of young creators. We often want to give space and resources to creative projects in music, theatre, dance, or literature, for example, but another group that could use additional support is young video game creators. We could definitely do more to value young creators and their future contributions to the field, whether that is encouraging young people to create video games or supporting their creations in more concrete ways. This support can take many forms: giving them spaces and tools for developing games, marketing their creations, or any other actions that help them access their creativity and develop new games for future generations to enjoy and learn from.