PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Review: Schrier, We Are the Gamers

Review: Karen Schrier, We the Gamers: How Games Teach Ethics and Civics (Oxford University Press, 2021). 229pp, appendices to p. 252, notes to p. 384, index. $99.00 hc, $39.95 pb, $14.57 Kindle.

In We Are the Gamers, Karen Schrier examines how games can be used to teach about ethics and civics. Games, she notes, “have always mattered and do not need to be legitimized, but the pandemic further showed us that games can serve as publics: as places and communities for learning, for connecting, for problem-solving, and for ethical and civic engagement.”

What follows is a far-reaching exploration of how games can and have been used to address civic and ethical issues. Broadly, the book is divided into five major sections. In Part I, two chapters address the value of teaching ethics and civics, and what it is that should be taught. In Part II, the author addresses games for knowledge and action, asking what knowledge is needed to empower citizens and how games can support real-world change. Part III turns attention to using games for connection and community, and better understanding both ourselves and others. Part IV devotes four full chapters to the development of critical thinking skills. Finally, Part V offers some overall reflections on how to select the right game, how to design supporting and complimentary activities around a game, and how to assess learning. Schrier also considers the possible future of serious games for ethics and civics.

As regular readers of PAXsims will know, I tend to be rather dubious of unbridled and uncritical evangelism for the magic of educational games—serious games can deliver excellent results, but only if they are designed well, used appropriately, and supported in other ways. In each chapter of We the Gamers, Schrier certainly provides enthusiastic discussion, well illustrated with examples, of the good that games can do. However she is also careful to identify potential pitfalls: entire sections of the book are devoted to how fostering communication can have negative effects, and how games may be insufficiently diverse or inclusive, trigger or emotionally overwhelm a player, misrepresent cultures, do a poor job of encouraging critical reflection, or confirm biases—to cite but a few. She also notes how the “fun” of games can itself be problematic. Having identified these risks, she then goes on to suggest how these problems can best be addressed.

The value of her analysis here goes well beyond games designed to teach ethical and civic engagement and would be of value to almost anyone who designs or uses games for learning or analytical purposes.

The book includes several length appendices, which offer sample lesson outlines, a design checklist and toolkit, a summary of key game design principles, and a series of recommendations for designers, educators, and researchers. Some of this is likely to find its way into my own game design syllabus. The endnotes and references are very extensive indeed.

Overall, this is a very readable, yet deeply thoughtful, book on the design and use of serious games. I recommend it highly.

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