Watching our upper elementary and middle school students gaming in the morning and during break time in the library clearly show how enjoyment of playing games connects with Gee’s principle of game players immersed in an affinity group. These students are bonded through shared endeavours, goals and practices (Gee, 2005) combined with the elements of play, fun, and engagement. There is a high intrinsic motivational value to play (digital) games and to be a part of the social cohesiveness of the group (Turkay et al, 2014, p.4). It builds ‘community’ for our students and so, are learning to function as part of a community’s culture – both online and in the physical space of gaming together (ibid, p 8). Too, as Cathie Howe remarked, during our first webinair (17 March 2016), it is the emotional investment that incorporate all of the above, that brings gamers back to gaming all the time.

morning computer play time middle school

Games allow for that necessary sense of play that allow children and adults alike to take risks, try out new ways of thinking, interact with others and build a sense of one’s own identity – as evidenced in James Paul Gee’s learning principles and Jerome Bruner’s declaration of play as ‘an attitude toward the use of the mind’ (1983, p. 69 in Turkay, Hoffman et al., 2014, p3):

I personally am returning to ‘play’ with my introduction to digital games. At the moment they are solitary endeavours, such as puzzle games like Lara Croft Go! I must admit to a better understanding of the emotion generated and the resulting noise levels in the library when our students are gaming. I do feel like a risk taker and experience first-hand ‘failure as a good thing’ where my initial failures are used as ‘ways to find the pattern, to gain feedback” (Gee, 2005, 35). As Gee acknowledges (ibid), too often we do not encourage ‘failure’ in the classroom as we should.

Considering the importance of ‘play’ and games for learning, we then need to question why it is only promoted in the early years of education and progressively disappears as ‘content’ and the traditional curriculum take over. The Fun Theory and Gee’s provocation that in reality all of our learning is a “game” or an ‘aspect of ‘doing’ where we “engage in characteristic sorts of activities, use characteristic tools and language, and hold certain values; that is [we] play by a certain set of ‘rules’ (Gee, 2005, p.34) are reminders that we need to be making learning more ‘game-like’.

Learning is an inherent feature of game playing (Tikka, Kankaanranta, Nousianen, Hankala, 2009, p.175). Kafai & Burke (2015, p. 315-16) note that playing and making games highlights the personal, social and cultural dimensions of constructionist learning, and in particular they adhere to the notion of a ‘participatory culture’ (Jenkins, 2006 and Ito and colleagues, 2009) whereby:

“Children’s capacity to create and modify digital games with and for each other offers them a tremendous advantage in understanding the ever changing nature of digital media, public domain, and what it means to problem solve and participate”.

So, what are the features of a ‘socially inclusive classroom or workplace’? How do the personal, social and cultural dimensions of learning show themselves within the classroom?  For me, it is diversity, inquiry, collaborative groups from small to large, teamwork and ‘having a go’, learning communities, the social context of caring and developing relationships, empathy, engagement, conversations and communication. All of which can be found within game-playing.

When I looked for a definition, I came across this article by  Maurice Elias (2016) which defines ‘social inclusion’ as:

Social inclusion is not about some students “helping” others and some students being “helped.” It is about all students finding meaningful ways to contribute (which means all situations are not necessarily reciprocal but all students must have involvement as contributors to others, regardless of ability level (my bold print).

This is achieved within digital games and gaming. Gaming allows all students, regardless of ability level, to be involved and contribute to the playing and making of games, and this has been extended to the formal learning space of the classroom. Elliott, (2014) reports a study involving Minecraft and how it has the potential of empowering disadvantaged learners and achieve social inclusion as is defined above. Considering the New Zealand Ministry of Education’s Inclusive Education guides also reveal how digital games would complement a socially inclusive classroom. It is a matter of recognizing the validity of new media literacies (Elliott, 2014, 40) and using them.


Elias, M. (2014). How to become a socially inclusive school. Edutopia. George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Elliott, D. (June, 2014). Levelling the playing field: engaging disadvantaged students through game-based pedagogy. Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, 22(2).

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

Kafai, Y.B. & Burke, Q. (2015). Constructionist gaming: understanding the benefits of making games for learning, Educational Psychologist, 50 (4). DOI: 10.1080/00461520.2015.1124022

New Zealand Ministry of Education.(n.d). Inclusive education: guides for schools.

Perrotta, C., Featherstone, G., Aston, H. and Houghton, E. (2013). Game-based Learning: Latest Evidence and Future Directions. NFER Research Programme: Innovation in Education. Slough: NFER.

Tikka, S., Kankaanranta, M., Nousiainen, T., & Hankala, M. (2009). Telling stories with digital board games: Narrative game worlds in literacies learning. In T. Connolly, M. Stansfield, & L. Boyle (Eds.) Games-based learning advancements for multi-sensory human computer interfaces: Techniques and effective practices (pp. 174-190). Hershey, PA: . doi:10.4018/978-1-60566-360-9.ch011

Turkay, S., Hoffman, D., Kinzer, C. K., Chantes, P., & Vicari, C. (2015). Toward understanding the potential of games for learning: Learning theory, game design characteristics, and situating video games in classrooms. Computers in the Schools, 31(1-2), 2–22.