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Gaming SEL

Games as Transformational to Social and Emotional Learning

Matthew Farber

Games enable children to practice emotions in spaces that are free from actualized consequences. With thoughtful guidance, games can help children manage emotions, perspective-take, demonstrate empathic concern, and exhibit prosocial behaviors.

Emerging research suggests that these competencies—also known as social and emotional learning (SEL) skills—are, in fact, teachable. In Gaming SEL: Games as Transformational to Social and Emotional Learning, Matthew Farber investigates the rich opportunities games have in supporting SEL skill development. Experts from the fields of education, game development, and SEL—including folks from CASEL, the Fred Rogers Center, Greater Good in Education, iThrive Games, Minecraft Education, and UNESCO MGIEP—share advice.

Games themselves cannot be responsible for children’s learning. Having a supportive educator or caregiver guiding experiences can be crucial. This book also includes recommendations for embedding games in classrooms in ways that support meaningful SEL skill development. Regardless of your experience, content area, or grade level, this book is for you!

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Chapter Five Mindful, Kind, and Compassionate


Mindfulness apps are seemingly everywhere these days. As I type this, the Breathe app on my Apple Watch chimes. On my wrist, a blue flower animates as I inhale and exhale. “Even a minute of breathing helps you think clearly,” the notification reads.

A quick search in the Health and Fitness category in the Apple App Store leads me down a rabbit hole of dozens and dozens of self-care and meditation apps. Subscription-based Headspace and Calm are market leaders in this multimillion-dollar sector. I also find Healthy Minds in the App Store. From Richard Davidson’s Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Healthy Minds is a personalized meditative awareness podcast suite.

Some apps are game-based in approach. One example is #SelfCare, co-designed by artificial intelligence expert Brie Code. In this experience, players interact in a virtual bedroom where they light candles, read tarot cards, and breathe mindfully. Another game-based app is SuperBetter, a goal-setting self-care experience based on the work of game designer and futurist Jane McGonigal. Completing real-world challenges, like drinking water and walking outside, unlocks rewards. The companion website shares research: In a randomized control trial, playing SuperBetter decreased depressive symptoms with participants (Worthen-Chaudhari et al., 2017); in a clinical trial, concussion symptoms were reduced among teenage youth (Roepke et al., 2015). ←105 | 106→

Mindfulness, which has roots in Hinduism and Buddhism, has become somewhat of a cottage industry in the world of self-help. Beyond self-help and self-care, are...

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