Engagement Through Gaming: Teamwork
One thing that has really been fascinating for me to watch as I work with my wonderful group of sophomores is the social dynamic of gaming. I’ve done plenty of social gaming, but I’ve never been a fifteen-year-old boy, so this is new territory for me. And I’d always suspected that the competitive camaraderie of gaming would actually raise the bar for everyone in the group, but I worried that this environment might also be a breeding ground for things like misogyny and homophobia.
Imagine my delight when I discovered the missing variable: me.
I don’t think my guys are curbing their behavior all that much when they’re around me–they swear a bit, and I had to break up an impromptu wrestling match at one point. I guess it’s hard to know how different they’re acting, since I don’t have powers of invisibility to watch them outside of school (also, creepy!), but I definitely seem to have a little less authority than their classroom teachers do.
That said, I’ve noticed that they do seem to care about my opinion, and occasionally that leads them to encourage each other in class, which is a really cool unexpected phenomenon. Last week when I announced that I was only seeing six new blog posts (from a class of eight), one of the guys looked around the room and said, “Hey, who hasn’t done theirs? Come on!” And this wasn’t even a case where the whole group had to wait to move on, or where I might penalize the class for an individual action–they’re getting assessed individually, and that day I was letting anyone who’d done the blogging move on at his own pace.
So here’s where things get even more interesting. Last week I’d heard some “that’s gay” floating around, and at first I was too nervous to intervene. (It’s interesting to me that no matter how out and proud and committed to queer rights I am, sometimes I still get intimidated by homophobia, even when it’s coming from kids. Another story, I guess.) When I heard it again, loud and clear, on Thursday, I decided to say something.
“Hey, [kid's name], I don’t appreciate that.”
He was immediately apologetic–”Sorry. …I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Yeah, but it kinda has the same effect.”
That was as much of a conversation as we needed to have–I didn’t want to derail the class, and I didn’t want to call him out in a big way, but I did want to react immediately and clearly. And to my surprise, as the class went back to what it was doing and we set up for the day, he continued the discussion with his peers–who suddenly all agreed with me!
Suddenly these teenagers, all still grappling with their own identities, navigating the baffling maze of adolescent masculinity, were all on board with the idea that even if you didn’t mean it that way, calling something (or someone) gay when you mean stupid can be hurtful.
What am I taking away from this? In social gaming it’s important to have a team, but it’s just as important to have outside influences who matter. These guys could beat the pants off of me in Halo, but I still have credibility because I game, I teach, and I know a little bit more than they do in some areas, like programming. Whether we’re playing or learning, if I can give them some clear objectives, they pull together to achieve them.
And that, my friends, is awesome.