To play or not to play?

Nina MK, Ph.D.
All the world is a stage, and all the people are merely players. To play a role, to use games in everyday life is in the human nature. It is no wonder that using games in education is a subject which keeps cropping up, to the extent that a new term, gamification, was coined circa 2002; it has been floating around ever since. All work and no play makes Jack and Jane dull children. All play and no work makes them ignorant children. As a teacher, I believe the topic deserves discussion on several levels.
• Not every adult likes or wants to play. If using games at a lesson is contrary to your nature, if it does not enhance your lessons, and if you achieve good results with the simple traditional methods which include the usage of textbooks, ICT, conferences, audios and videos, international projects, you should probably not worry about plays and games.
• Children play games. If we decide to use any game at a lesson, we should choose carefully and check that we have our own answers to the questions: what, when, why, how often.
• One of the most popular recent movie franchises is called “The Hunger Games”; the title itself draws our attention to the popularity of games in the modern world. The main characters are young and very attractive, the story line is intricate enough to keep up the suspense, and the visual effects are impressive. I watched the first film to see for myself what it is that makes many teenagers like it – and I was deeply disturbed by its main idea. A group of youngsters is chosen to find and kill another group of youngsters… It is not the traditional fight of Good versus Evil. This is just a condition imposed on the heroes by adults in power: kill or be killed. Simple. No, this is not a game I would use at a lesson, but I have listened to adolescents’ debates about it, and expressed my own opinion which made them think about the values offered in the story.
• Primary school pupils love any element of play or game. We can teach anything using either an existing video game or introducing a few elements into a topic. We may also find a game which breaks into short fragments easily and use it throughout the academic year or term on a continuous basis. Again, I would not use any game which has a lot of senseless violence in it.
• All the children enjoy role-playing. We can use an existing video game or play and help them choose or distribute the roles; or we can invent a game, or write a play if we are artistically inclined. When children of all ages come to school and pour out their news, they also talk about the TV shows and films that they watch at home. At times, the information not only opens up a window into their family world, but makes me wonder: do their parents ever supervise their activities? My class of eight-year-olds was playing a complicated game during every break, and I could see that something was off. I asked, and they willingly explained to me what they were doing. They called the game “Freddy”. As in Freddy Krueger of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” notoriety. It was a classic situation, with just one child in the class who had actually watched the film and was badly scared. Now he was obviously taking it out of his system by sharing with his peers. I listened, we discussed the story, I explained the genre specifics, though I could not answer their main question. Why are such films made? They were too young to understand the concept, I believe. I compromised by telling them that I got scared and so never watched horror films, which made everybody feel better. We gradually moved to a different game which became a part of our weekly brainstorming sessions.
• When students bring in a game and ask if we could play it at a lesson or lessons, I stipulate just one condition: we do everything in English. It is a well-known truth that if we try to forbid something, anything, children will become more and more curious about it, and try to get their information anywhere. The younger they are, the more effective adult guidance and help may be.
• Gamification, using games for educational purposes, is quite a serious subject. When used sensible and with moderation, it can be a good tool which can help students enrich their language skills. Just like any other tool we use at our lessons.

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