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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 Six Ethics, Perspective-Taking, and Teen Identity


A runaway trolley without brakes is headed towards five people standing on a rail line. The trolley has no whistle, and there is no way for nearby onlookers to warn them. However, you can. You find yourself near a lever that can cause the trolley to switch tracks. There is just one problem: Someone is standing on the other line. Pulling the lever will kill one person, not five. Is that the right thing to do? Is the problem easier to solve if the five people were older individuals and the one person was a baby? If so, why?

Now, let’s say that there is a large man on an overpass. You are now no longer near the lever but behind the man. As he peers over the overpass, you can push him over to stop the trolley before it hits five people. Is it more ethical to push the man over the bridge or to switch the lever?

A classic thought experiment, the dilemma I just described is known as the trolley problem. Introduced by Philippa Foot in 1967, it has been reworked, remixed, and updated over the years. In a lifeboat with limited seats, which passengers should be allowed on? When there is a vaccine for a pandemic plaguing the globe, who gets vaccinated first?

Thought experiments do not have concrete solutions; they are open-ended problem sets. In the trolley problem, some people might not push the man over the bridge or...

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