February 7, 2020

Game-Based Learning to Increase Social Literacy

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

Exploiting the potential of games to benefit teaching and learning is no longer a novelty, and recent years have seen considerable activity surrounding the use of game mechanics in college education. That said, finding games suitable for learning—so-called serious games—that target specific competencies and are offered free of charge is not always an easy feat. Echoing our fall 2019 article on the CCDMD’s collection of serious games [in French], this text presents 6 serious games that help college students develop their social literacy, a transversal skill important for all college students, regardless of their program.

Serious Games and Social Literacy

Social Literacy can be defined as a student’s successful understanding and performance of social skills, organizational skills, and communication skills. It concerns students’ ability to connect effectively with others in face-to-face and online contexts, but also when informing themselves on social issues affecting individuals they will never meet.

Game-based learning is particularly suitable to teaching social literacy because it can recreate authentic experiences that place the student at the center of their learning. It also demonstrates that learning is as much about the process as the outcome and can be measured not only by obtaining points but by developing competencies.

Serious games turn real-world dilemmas into engaging learning experiences by inviting players to actively solve relevant problems, which expands the ways in which students see and interact with the world around them. They introduce narrative, interaction and problem solving, which can increase engagement and sustain motivation.
In sum, serious games are effective to teach social literacy because they allow students to:

  • Build an emotional connection to learning and the subject at hand
  • Get opportunities for feedback and discussion
  • Personalize their learning experience

The following sections present serious games that are accessible online free of charge and focus on different aspects of social literacy.

Fake News and Media Literacy

  • The Bad News Game teaches about fake news and disinformation by putting students in the position of the people who create it. This makes them gain insight into the various tactics and methods used by trolls and producers of fake news to spread their message. The game is simple: players are shown a short text or image and need to react by choosing one of the available options. These decisions affect their score, which is measured in terms of followers and credibility.

The Bad News Game puts students in the position of the people who create fake news to make them more aware of the issue.

The aim of the game is to gain as many followers as possible without losing too much credibility. Based on the Digital Hydra report by NATO, the game breaks disinformation and fake news down into 6 aspects, which are further explained in the accompanying information sheet.

  • Troll Factory, developed by a team of experts at the Finnish Broadcasting Company, is based on a similar principle, but uses examples of authentic social media content. The theme of the game concerns anti-immigration material. The goal of the game is to illustrate how fake news, emotive content and bot armies are used to affect public opinion and decision-making.

The interface of Troll Factory, shaped like a cell phone, puts students in the skin of Internet trolls to make them learn about the causes and consequences of spreading disinformation regarding immigration.

  • We Become What We Behold, playable in 5 minutes, is also concerned with news cycles, and takes a critical look at the image-driven news culture of today’s society. Because of its brevity, it is especially suitable as a discussion starter on the topic of fake news, social media, and their impact. The developer also offers a game on living with anxiety and a game on coming out as homosexual.

We Become What We Behold is a short game with cartoon-like graphics focused on the news spreads on social media, especially in the shape of images.

Social and Environmental Issues

  • The Stop Disasters game, produced by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, seeks to increase awareness and educate students on the causes and potential consequences of natural disasters: earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods and wildfires. After selecting a scenario, students can inform themselves on their chosen disaster before starting their mission, which is to eliminate the risk to their best extent. For instance, trying to avoid wildfires may involve preventively cutting dry patches of forest.

In the Stop Disasters game, students select a mission, inform themselves on the causes and consequences of a certain type of natural disaster, and then pose concrete actions to help avoid this disaster from happening.

Stop Disasters game takes the shape of a simulation-based strategy game. [Image source]

  • The interactive movie Brothers Across Borders tells about the living conditions of Syrian refugees trying to make their way into Turkey and the choices they have to make in an engaging and capturing fashion. It was financed by the European Union Regional Trust Fund and produced in collaboration with the Red Cross.

Brothers Across Borders is an interactive movie that includes game elements allowing students to experience first hand what it means to be a refugee.

Brothers Across Borders combines visual storytelling with game play based on decision making and multi-choice questions. This allows students to experience the life of a Syrian refugee as the movie takes them to real locations in Syria and Turkey. A teacher’s guide is available to accompany students as they explore the movie-based game and related topics.

  • Liyla and the Shadows of War, available as an app on iOs and Android, is a game based on real events; it tells the story of a young girl living in Gaza. The student plays the role of Liyla and needs to make quick decisions to save the child’s family from danger and get them to a safer place. To highlight the authentic nature of the game, the website presents the actual photos on which different scenes are based.

The dark graphics of Liyla and the Shadows of War make students experience the gravity of the situations depicted, and are based on real-life images, available on the game’s website. [Image source]

Closing Considerations

Serious games allow students to explore content from a new point of view; for example, by inhabiting a character. In order to be effective, a serious game needs to:

  •  Be well-designed to give players structure and meaning to the in-game action
  •  Align with learning outcomes
  •  Not be competitive in the conventional sense
While the 6 games presented in this article correspond to these criteria, other games are bound to become available. If you know of any other serious games that relate to social literacy, please share them in the comments!

About the author

Andy Van Drom

Andy Van Drom has been teaching English as a second language and linguistics since 2005, first at Université Laval and then, since 2012, at Cégep Limoilou. After completing doctoral studies in Linguistics (Université Laval), he obtained a second master’s degree, in Higher Education Pedagogy (Performa, Université de Sherbrooke). With the aim of supporting inclusive teaching practices and fostering student success, his focus is on the role of language mindset in learner motivation. Andy has published 4 ESL textbooks with Pearson ERPI as well as several open educational resources in digital format. His keen interest in pedagogy led him to work with Profweb (now Eductive) in 2017 and with the AQPC in 2021, 2 mandates that are still ongoing. His desire to innovate in pedagogy has earned him an AQPC Honourable Mention, a Forces Avenir Award and the EF Excellence Award in Language Teaching.

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