Sunday, February 18, 2018

When History Should NOT Be Gamified or Simulated in the Classroom

I love finding new and interesting ways to get students engaged in and excited about what we're learning in class. Gamification is a great way to to do that.  Gamification can be powerful for learning and classroom management. Classroom challenges, escape rooms, earning badges for mastering skills  and leveling up are all great ways to incorporate gamification into learning. Game-like simulations or roleplays are also popular teaching tools.

Research shows that gamification can help students build confidence, support critical thinking, improve collaboration and encourage creativity. These are all great benefits! I agree that gamification can be a powerful tool to change learning in your classroom. Gamification can spice up boring history and get students excited about the past.

But y'all, we need to get real here for a minute. There are some things that should never ever ever be made into a game. For any reason. Full stop.

I cannot believe some of the things I have seen turned into wildly inappropriate games! You may be wondering what types of things shouldn't be gamified if gamification has all the benefits I mentioned above. I don't have a complete list, I'm sure there are some things I've overlooked, but here is a starting point:

  • Slavery and related topics (example: Underground railroad, slave ships)
  • Genocide  (example: Holocaust)
  • Oppression of Minority Groups (example: Segregation)
  • The Plight of Native Peoples (example: Trail of Tears)
  • Immigration (example: Illegal Immigration, Ellis Island)
  • War (example: Vietnam, D-Day)
  • Mass Casualty Incidents (examples: 9/11, School Shootings)
  • Assassinations and murders (example: Martin Luther King)
As I said, this list is not exhaustive by any means, but it gives some food for thought on the types of historical events that should never be gamified. These topics shouldn't be gamified because no one's trauma or history should be reduced to a game. Say that again- one more time:

No one's trauma or history should be reduced to a game.

Doing so trivializes the experiences of those who endured (and possibly died during) these hardships, traumas, and injustices. Such games can also serve to alienate students of various racial or ethnic groups, while other students may find the "game" in itself traumatizing. What possible educational benefit can come from asking students to take on the roles of slaves or people living in concentration camps? If you answer is empathy- don't. There are far more appropriate and sensitive ways to teach empathy. 

When considering gamifying a topic in your classroom, please stop and think:
  1. What is the goal? What is the learning outcome for this game? 
  2. How does gamifying support the desired learning outcome? 
  3. Does the game have the potential to alienate, offend, or trivialize an event or group of people?
  4. Is there the potential for students be hurt or traumatized by the game? 
  5. Is this the most culturally/racially sensitive and inclusive way to approach this topic?
Certainly there are some great topics suited for gamification or simulations which students can participate in and learn from- but not every topic is appropriate to simulate or gamify. Carefully considering the purpose, goals, and potential pitfalls of gamifying a topic before you do it can help you avoid hurting, alienating, and offending students in your classroom. Please take the time to do some careful consideration and reflection before gamifying or simulating historical events in your classroom. 


Teachers and Gamers Agree: 'slave Tetris' Isn't How You Educate Kids About Slavery Liz Dwyer -

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  1. Thank you for writing this. I know that people wouldn't intend to denigrate the lived experience of our students' families. But trivializing genocide or slavery is wrong. Lessons about them shouldn't be fun.