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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 Seven Co-op Play, Teamwork, and Relationship Skills


“I would rather hire a high-level World of Warcraft player than an MBA from Harvard,” researcher John Seeley Brown once famously quipped (2012, para. 1). Brown’s remark was based on the multiplayer online game’s guild structure, where players with different abilities self-organize into teams. Skills developed in the game may translate to the real-world, he surmised.

Over the years, many different kinds of multiplayer games have entered classrooms, including World of Warcraft, Minecraft, a sandbox for learning, making, and sharing, and Classcraft, the game layer that turns learning into a team-based experience (for more, see Chapter Five). Team-based escape room games have also become popular in classrooms (Menon & Romero, 2020). Nicholson (2015) defines escape rooms as live-action games where players “discover clues, solve puzzles, and accomplish tasks in one or more rooms in order to accomplish a specific goal (usually escaping from the room) in a limited amount of time” (p. 1). Breakout EDU is an example of a school-based escape room platform. (More on Breakout EDU soon!)

In cooperative (“co-op”) games, players do not receive participation trophies just for showing up. Instead, everyone either all wins together, or all players lose. One example is Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, a game about defusing a bomb. Only one player sees and interacts with a bomb, while other players, known as “experts,” have access to the Bomb Defusal manual, a printable document of ←153 | 154→ puzzles. As the timer ticks down, experts need to apply critical...

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