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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 Eight How Making Games Supports Self-Awareness


A common misconception about game design is that it is the same as coding. However, the career of a game designer may or may not actually involve writing lines of computer code. A broad field, game design encompasses systems engineering, sound design, narrative design, user experience, user interface testing, environmental design, character art, and, yes, coding. (Of course, like any profession these days, having some proficiency in coding helps!)

“The act of writing code and the process of designing games are different skillsets,” Kevin Miklasz told me. Miklasz is on the Global Game Jam board of directors. Over the years, we have worked together on several youth-centered game jam initiatives.

What is a game jam? A game jam is a “rapid prototyping event that typically takes place over a few days or a weekend, where game developers are given a theme and need to develop a game within the time frame” (Schrier, 2019, p. 4). Cooking competition television shows are a good analogy for how game jam events take place. On Food Network’s Chopped series, chefs open a secret basket of ingredients, then prepare an appetizer, main course, and dessert in a limited time frame. The aesthetics of dishes are then scored using an agreed-upon rubric. Similarly, at game jams, participants are given constraints—time, software, themes—to design a game for someone else to play. Sometimes, game jams are competitive endeavors, while at other times, participants have mutual goals. Examples include social ←175 | 176→ impact...

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