60% of Australian English teachers think video games are a ‘legitimate’ text to study. But only 15% have used one

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Are you worried about how much time your child spends playing video games? Do they “hibernate” for hours in their room, talking what seems like gibberish to their friends?

Fresh air and life away from gaming are undeniably important. But it may help to know our research shows many English teachers are thinking seriously about how gaming applies in their classrooms – even if there are divided opinions about how to approach it.

Video games and English education

The global gaming industry is huge and continues to grow. It is tipped to be worth US$321 billion (A$477 billion) by 2026.

While many gamers are over 18, we know video games are very important to young people’s culture and identity. In 2023, Bond University surveyed 1,219 Australian households on behalf of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association. It found 93% of 5-14 year-olds and 91% of 15-24 year-olds surveyed in Australia play video games.

More than fifteen years of research has also shown video games can also have educational benefits. This includes developing problem solving and literacy skills, creativity, team work and developing a critical understanding of their place in the world.

From an English teachers’ perspective, many video games have complex narrative scripts and plots and clear character development. They also typically require players to interpret cultural contexts and apply them. For example, games like The Legend of Zelda (first released in 1986 with multiple spin-offs) contain back-stories and plot-lines that are ripe for analysis.

However, these sorts of games (or texts) are still not valued in English curricula. Greater value is placed on studying favourite classics such as Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and other print-based literature.

Video games such as The Legend of Zelda contain complex plots and characters. <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Deeanna Arts/ Peels;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Deeanna Arts/ Peels</a>, <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:CC BY;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">CC BY</a>

Read more: Here's why The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is big news – even among those who don't see themselves as 'gamers'

Our research

To better understand how teachers value digital games in their classrooms and how they use them, we surveyed 201 high school English teachers around Australia. They came from all school sectors. More than 60% of those surveyed had been teaching for at least ten years.

Our research found:

  • 58.6% of teachers surveyed believed digital games are a “legitimate text type”. This means they thought they can be taught in English programs alongside other texts such as plays, books and poetry. A further 27.4% were unsure and 14% of respondents said digital games were not legitimate texts

  • 85% had not used digital games as a main or “focus” text for classroom study, with 74% having no plans to do so in the future

  • teachers with less experience were more likely to think they could use video games as a text for classroom study. For example, teachers who had used digital games with their students were 260% more likely to have 15 years or less experience

  • of those not using digital games as a focus or supplementary text, 23% reported limited knowledge of, and time to explore, how to use them in the classroom

  • 80% of teachers had not received professional development on how to use digital games but 60% had independently read articles, books, or chapters about them.

Read more: Video gaming can bolster classroom learning, but not without teacher support

What does the curriculum say?

The term “multimodal” appears more than 300 times in the Australian English curriculum. Multimodal means a text contains two or more modes, such as written or spoken text, video images and audio.

While digital games are indeed multimodal texts, the curriculum does not overtly name digital games (or video games) as an example of a multimodal text.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, only 30% of our respondents felt digital games were mentioned in the curriculum.

Teachers in their own words

In open-ended questions, teachers revealed strong and in some cases, polarised views about video games in their classrooms. Those who were positive, emphasised their ability to engage students. As one teacher told us:

I think digital games are the future of education […] a medium all students are familiar with, engage in, and enjoy. Students do not read books ‘en masse’ anymore, yet we as English teachers insist on dragging them kicking and screaming through texts they detest, whilst penalising them for playing the digital games they love.

Teachers also spoke of the rich, complex nature of some games. For example, they valued the way digital games have “multiple plot lines”, “connectivity between segments”, and “immerse students in worlds” as “active rather than passive” users of a text.

But some teachers also said video games hampered students’ creativity:

I am so over this stupid fixation. Digital games stymie imaginative writing and actually ‘flatten’ affect in the student’s ‘voice’. It comes to define their idea of writing and they regurgitate silly game stories that lack any emotional or creative flair.

They also expressed strong concerns they were were not good for students (echoing similar, ongoing concerns in news media), with one stating:

I really hate video games and I do not think they are healthy for kids […].

Teachers in the study variously described computer games as the ‘future’ and a ‘stupid fixation’. <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Syed Ali/ Unsplash;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Syed Ali/ Unsplash</a>, <a href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:CC BY;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">CC BY</a>

What does this mean?

Our research shows digital games remain a contentious issue among English teachers. This suggests there needs to be clearer curriculum guidelines about their use in the classroom (rather than general references to “multimodal” texts).

It also suggests teachers need more professional development around video games, including their potential benefits as well as how to use them effectively and for critical understanding in their English programs. This will require practical resources and research-based examples.

We need students to be able to think critically when engaging with all types of texts. Especially those that feature so prominently in their lives.

Read more: Vacuuming, moving house, unpacking are boring in real life – so why is doing them in a video game so fun?

This article is republished from The Conversation is the world's leading publisher of research-based news and analysis. A unique collaboration between academics and journalists. It was written by: Amanda Gutierrez, Australian Catholic University; Kathy Mills, Australian Catholic University; Laura Scholes, Australian Catholic University, and Luke Rowe, Australian Catholic University.

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Laura Scholes has received funding from The Australian Research Council, Catholic Education, Qld, The Department of Education, Qld, and the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre.

Amanda Gutierrez, Kathy Mills, and Luke Rowe do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.