Are you worried about how much time your child spends playing video games? Do they “hibernate” for hours in their room, talking what seems like gibberish to their friends?
Fresh air and life away from gaming are undeniably important. But it may help to know our research shows many English teachers are thinking seriously about how gaming applies in their classrooms – even if there are divided opinions about how to approach it.
Video games and English education
While many gamers are over 18, we know video games are very important to young people’s culture and identity. In 2023, Bond University surveyed 1,219 Australian households on behalf of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association. It found 93% of 5-14 year-olds and 91% of 15-24 year-olds surveyed in Australia play video games.
More than fifteen years of research has also shown video games can also have educational benefits. This includes developing problem solving and literacy skills, creativity, team work and developing a critical understanding of their place in the world.
From an English teachers’ perspective, many video games have complex narrative scripts and plots and clear character development. They also typically require players to interpret cultural contexts and apply them. For example, games like The Legend of Zelda (first released in 1986 with multiple spin-offs) contain back-stories and plot-lines that are ripe for analysis.
However, these sorts of games (or texts) are still not valued in English curricula. Greater value is placed on studying favourite classics such as Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and other print-based literature.
To better understand how teachers value digital games in their classrooms and how they use them, we surveyed 201 high school English teachers around Australia. They came from all school sectors. More than 60% of those surveyed had been teaching for at least ten years.
Our research found:
- 58.6% of teachers surveyed believed digital games are a “legitimate text type”. This means they thought they can be taught in English programs alongside other texts such as plays, books and poetry. A further 27.4% were unsure and 14% of respondents said digital games were not legitimate texts
- 85% had not used digital games as a main or “focus” text for classroom study, with 74% having no plans to do so in the future
- teachers with less experience were more likely to think they could use video games as a text for classroom study. For example, teachers who had used digital games with their students were 260% more likely to have 15 years or less experience
- of those not using digital games as a focus or supplementary text, 23% reported limited knowledge of, and time to explore, how to use them in the classroom
- 80% of teachers had not received professional development on how to use digital games but 60% had independently read articles, books, or chapters about them.
What does the curriculum say?
The term “multimodal” appears more than 300 times in the Australian English curriculum. Multimodal means a text contains two or more modes, such as written or spoken text, video images and audio.
While digital games are indeed multimodal texts, the curriculum does not overtly name digital games (or video games) as an example of a multimodal text.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, only 30% of our respondents felt digital games were mentioned in the curriculum.
Teachers in their own words
In open-ended questions, teachers revealed strong and in some cases, polarised views about video games in their classrooms. Those who were positive, emphasised their ability to engage students. As one teacher told us:
I think digital games are the future of education […] a medium all students are familiar with, engage in, and enjoy. Students do not read books ‘en masse’ anymore, yet we as English teachers insist on dragging them kicking and screaming through texts they detest, whilst penalising them for playing the digital games they love.
Teachers also spoke of the rich, complex nature of some games. For example, they valued the way digital games have “multiple plot lines”, “connectivity between segments”, and “immerse students in worlds” as “active rather than passive” users of a text.
But some teachers also said video games hampered students’ creativity:
I am so over this stupid fixation. Digital games stymie imaginative writing and actually ‘flatten’ affect in the student’s ‘voice’. It comes to define their idea of writing and they regurgitate silly game stories that lack any emotional or creative flair.
They also expressed strong concerns they were were not good for students (echoing similar, ongoing concerns in news media), with one stating:
I really hate video games and I do not think they are healthy for kids […].
What does this mean?
Our research shows digital games remain a contentious issue among English teachers. This suggests there needs to be clearer curriculum guidelines about their use in the classroom (rather than general references to “multimodal” texts).
It also suggests teachers need more professional development around video games, including their potential benefits as well as how to use them effectively and for critical understanding in their English programs. This will require practical resources and research-based examples.
We need students to be able to think critically when engaging with all types of texts. Especially those that feature so prominently in their lives.
Author Bios: Amanda Gutierrez is an Associate Professor in Literacy and WIL partnerships, Kathy Mills is Professor of Literacies and Digital Cultures, Laura Scholes is Associate Professor of Gender and Literacies and Luke Rowe is a Lecturer and Researcher (Science of Learning) all at the Australian Catholic University