Game-Based Teaching: Practices, Roles
Pre-print version. Cite as:
Hanghøj, T. (2013). Game-based teaching: Practices, roles, and pedagogies. In New Pedagogical
Approaches in Game-enhanced Learning: Curriculum integration (pp. 81-101). IGI Global.
University of Aalborg, Denmark
This chapter outlines theoretical and empirical perspectives on how Game-Based Teaching can
be integrated within the context of formal schooling. Initially, this is done by describing game
scenarios as models for possible actions that need to be translated into curricular knowledge
practices, pedagogical knowledge practices, and everyday knowledge practices. Secondly, the
chapter emphasizes how teachers must be able to shift back and forth between various
interactional roles in order to facilitate game scenarios. Finally, a discussion is presented on how
teachers choose different pedagogical approaches to game-based teaching, which may or may
not correspond with the pedagogical models of particular games.
This chapter addresses three recurring and interrelated challenges with Game-Based Teaching
(GBT), which concern 1) how games are perceived and adopted within a formal school context,
2) how teachers facilitate games through different roles, and 3) the relationship between
teachers’ pedagogical approaches and the pedagogical models of particular games. These three
challenges are all addressed by conceptualizing games as scenario-based models for possible
actions. This means that games are not viewed as self-explanatory aims or efficient “techniques”,
but as more or less open-ended scenarios that may or may not be integrated with the pedagogical
and curricular knowledge practices of a school context. In this way, game scenarios involve both
opportunities and challenges for teaching and for fulfilling particular learning objectives.
The chapter primarily adopts a teacher perspective on games and learning, a relatively
overlooked aspect within the research field. A number of general pedagogical frameworks exist
that describe how games can be integrated into educational contexts (Van Eck, 2009; Simpson &
Stansberry, 2010; Arnab et al., submitted). However, only few empirical studies have been
conducted on how teachers actually enact games within classroom settings (Squire, 2004;
Sandford et al., 2006; Hanghøj & Brund, 2012). In order to generate knowledge that can be
useful for practitioners in the field, it is crucial to conduct more empirical studies on the actual
practices of teachers using games. Following this aim, the theoretical models and examples
presented in this chapter are all based on empirical studies of educational gaming conducted by
the author. These studies, each of which focuses on teacher use of a particular game, can be
divided into three groups: the educational computer game Global Conflicts (Hanghøj &
Magnussen, 2010; Hanghøj, 2011b; Hanghøj & Brund, 2012); the commercial off-the-shelf
(COTS)game Penumbra (Bourgonjon & Hanghøj, 2011); and an ICT-supported debate game
called The Power Game (Hanghøj, 2011a). Combined, these studies involve observations of
game sessions conducted by approximately twenty-five teachers at the secondary and upper
secondary level. In addition to classroom observations, the studies also include pre- and post-
game interviews with the participating teachers.
The chapter is divided into five parts, the first of which defines game scenarios and why the
scenario aspects of games are particularly relevant for educational purposes. Next, the three
challenges mentioned above are introduced and then subsequently discussed in another section.
Finally, the chapter concludes with a series of recommendations for GBT based on the
opportunities and challenges discussed throughout the chapter. Based on a desire to put more
emphasis on the crucial role of teachers as professional gatekeepers or “change agents” (Bruner,
1996: 84) when it comes to designing, facilitating and evaluating the outcomes of game-based
learning environments, the term Game-Based Teaching instead of Game-Based Learning is used
throughout the chapter. In this way, the theoretical perspectives and empirical findings presented
here can hopefully be used to qualify the choices teachers, designers and researchers make when
using game scenarios for educational purposes.
It is common knowledge among both children and philosophers that the term game is, to say the
least, quite ambiguous (Wittgenstein, 1958). This uncertainty means that researchers, game
designers, journalists, policy makers, parents, school teachers and students rarely have an
identical point of reference when they talk about games. Some of this confusion can be explained
by the fact that the term game refers to a myriad of different game formats (e.g. video games,
location-based games, board games), game genres (e.g. strategy games, edutainment games,
massively multiplayer online role-playing games), and a diverse array of game dynamics
(competition, exploration, resource management etc.). In order to reduce this complexity, the
scenario aspect of games will be stressed when describing how games can be used and
understood in relation to educational contexts.
The main reason for describing games as scenarios, a term derived from Italian meaning “that
which is pinned to the scenery”, is that scenarios directly refer to the dynamic, future-oriented
models for possible actions that are embedded in game designs. This points to a core dynamic of
games, which is to make meaningful choices and to explore how these choices have
consequences within a game world (Salen & Zimmerman, 2003). Following a pragmatist
perspective, I assume that games are inquiry-based laboratories in which participants are able to
imagine, engage with, and reflect upon their experiences (Dewey, 1916). Moreover, Dewey’s
theory of inquiry may also be understood as a theory of scenario-based inquiry (Hanghøj,
2011a), an interpretation of Dewey’s pragmatism best illustrated by his term “dramatic
rehearsal”, which describes how individuals make moral and ethical decisions by going over
“various competing possible lines of action” in their minds (Dewey 1922: 190). Dewey’s
compelling use of the drama metaphor implies that decisions cannot be reduced to utilitarian,
rational, or mechanical exercises, but that they are resolved through the imaginative projection of
outcomes that also have emotional, creative, and personal qualities. Based on this pragmatist
perspective, game scenarios can be defined as contingency models that explicitly allow game
participants to imagine, enact, and reflect upon the relationship between particular actions and
their actual or possible consequences. In this way, game scenarios can be used to explore and
experiment with the construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of knowledge.
My second assumption, which follows from the first, is that games are well-suited for developing
students’ scenario competence, which can be defined as the ability to imagine, enact, and reflect
upon game-specific choices and their consequences (Hanghøj, 2011). Thus, scenario competence
represents a form of meta-competence, which involves three different aspects: 1) problem
scenarios, 2) social scenarios, and 3) identity scenarios. These three aspects correspond with the
three major functions of education: qualification, socialization, and subjectification (Biesta,
The notion of problem scenarios, which refers to Dewey’s theory of inquiry, concerns the ability
of students to build and explore hypotheses in relation to the challenges that they encounter in a
specific game world (Dewey, 1916). For example, a social studies course that uses the Global
Conflicts game series may develop students’ scenario competence by teaching them to
understand the ideological conflicts as represented in the game. The key issue here is
qualifications: What is to be learned through the game?
The second aspect, which concerns social scenarios, is based upon the assumption that the social
interaction surrounding game encounters requires the ability to enact particular rules, roles, and
frameworks within a given social context (Goffman, 1974). In this way, the same course with
Global Conflicts games can be used to teach students how to work together in pairs to write
journalistic articles based on their game experiences. The key issue here is socialization: How is
the social interaction of the game session organized?
The third aspect of scenario competence, identity scenarios, refers to the player/student
experience of projecting identities, and how this can be related to the individual’s own beliefs
and personal narratives (Bruner, 1990). When students take on the role of journalist in Global
Conflicts, they may relate this experience to a number of other perspectives – e.g. what does it
mean to see the world through the eyes of a journalist? What attitudes and ideological beliefs
toward the conflicts are made available (and unavailable) in the game? The key issue here is
subjectification: Who can I become when playing this game?
The final reason for conceptualizing games as scenarios is methodological. As Gee has argued, it
is highly important that educational game researchers pay closer attention to the ways in which
different games are related to larger learning systems, which can be termed Games, with a capital
“G”, as opposed to the current tendency to focus on games (with a small “g”) as just isolated
designs within educational contexts (Gee, 2011). Arguing along similar lines, the educational use
of game scenarios can be seen as the creation of layered realities that involve both the scenarios
embedded in the game and the scenarios of the educational context. In order to better understand
this relationship, Game-Based Teaching can be described as an interplay and translation of
knowledge practices, which involve different criteria for validating knowledge.
1st CHALLENGE: GAMING VERSUS SCHOOLING
The challenges involved in Game-Based Teaching are often described in terms of “practical”
problems or barriers, which need to be fixed or solved in order to further advance the educational
use of games (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2004). Thus, several studies mention how the use of games is
constrained by narrowly defined curricula, limited time schedules, technical problems, and
insufficient resources for buying games (Sandford et al., 2006; Simpson & Stansberry, 2008;
Van Eck, 2009; Williamson, 2009).
Seen from a pragmatist perspective, the challenges concerning the educational use of games
cannot simply be reduced to a matter of practical problems to be solved. Instead, I wish to argue
that the main challenge of Game-Based Teaching is a matter of integrating different knowledge
practices with different criteria for what counts as valid knowledge – inside and outside school
contexts (Barth, 2002; Hanghøj, forthcoming). In order to briefly illustrate this hypothesis, it can
be helpful to take a closer look at the perceived dichotomy between “schooling” and “gaming”
(i.e. school/serious versus leisure/fun), which is commonly reinforced among researchers,
teachers, students, parents, politicians, and educational game designers. This perceived
dichotomy is quite problematic given the fact that game practices and school practices in several
respects have a common historical origin that can be traced back to Antiquity. In the words of the
famous historian and play theorist Huizinga, “Meaning originally ‘leisure,’ [school] has now
acquired precisely the opposite sense of systematic work and training, as civilization restricted
the free disposal of the young man’s time more and more” (1955: 148). Similarly, the Latin term
for a teacher or school master, magister ludi, can literally be translated as “master of game
activities” (Buttori & Loh, 2009). Today, these original meanings of the terms game and school
are almost forgotten, mainly as a result of the last two-three hundred years of modernization
taking place in Western societies, which has led to an increasing differentiation of play, work,
and school activities. Thus, these two activities, gaming and schooling, have developed into two
distinct “knowledge traditions” (Barth, 2002) that often rely on opposing validity criteria for
determining what counts and what does not count as relevant knowledge.
Game-Based Teaching as an Interplay of Knowledge Practices
In order to provide a more context-sensitive framework for understanding how game scenarios
can (and cannot) be taught within educational contexts, I argue that Game-Based Teaching
represents a complex interplay of different knowledge practices. Inspired by Barth’s
anthropological theory of knowledge, a knowledge practice can be defined analytically in
relation to a substantive corpus of assertions, a range of media and representations, and a social
organization (Barth, 2002).
If we take games as an example of a knowledge practice, they embed a number of ideas and
assertions in the organization of the game world, they embed different forms of game media and
representation (including game boards, digital media etc.), and they are distributed,
communicated, employed, and transmitted within particular social institutions such as school
settings (cf. Klabbers, 2009: 10). The three aspects of knowledge (assertions, representations,
social organization) are interconnected and determine each other mutually (Barth 2002: 3).
Moreover, any knowledge practice, whether it is game or school-related, generates tradition-
specific criteria for validating knowledge that influences the ways in which certain knowledge
practices are seen as being valid or invalid. This dynamic resembles Gee’s notion of semiotic
domains defined by distinct forms of “content”, literacies, and social practices that can be
designed to engage and manipulate people in certain ways (Gee 2003: 43ff). However, Gee has
rightfully been criticized for a tendency to over-emphasize how particular game designs may
determine particular forms of learning (Sefton-Green, 2006; Pelletier, 2008). In that sense, the
term semiotic domain often reduces games to textual machines embedded with strong claims
about how learning will or should take place. Consequently, I prefer to speak of knowledge
practices and focus more on how the messy realities of teaching with games are actually carried
out within a classroom context.
In order to provide a more detailed understanding of the complex translations involved in using
games for educational purposes, I will conceptualize Game-Based Teaching as a dynamic
interplay of four knowledge practices: 1) specialized or curricular knowledge practices, 2)
pedagogical or “school only” knowledge practices, 3) everyday or non-specialized knowledge
practices, and 4) scenario-specific knowledge practices (Hanghøj, 2011b). To give an example, a
game-based course may involve the exploration of a particular game scenario in the Global
Conflicts series, such as illegal border crossing between Mexico and the U.S. (scenario-specific
knowledge practice), the specialized discipline of social studies (curricular knowledge practice),
project-based group work (pedagogical knowledge practice), and leisure game experiences as
well as commonsensical knowledge about politics and human rights (everyday knowledge
practices). Figure 1, below, shows the interplay between the four knowledge practices.
Figure 1. Game-Based Teaching as an interplay of knowledge practices
As the model illustrates, the educational use of game scenarios always requires dynamic
translations across the four knowledge practices. The term translation is used to describe the
interpretations and choices that teachers have to make to “read” and re-design game scenarios for
curricular practices and pedagogical practices while also paying attention to students’ prior game
experiences. Moreover, translations also refer to the fact that games are often seen both by
teachers and students as somewhat unfamiliar learning resources and teaching methods in
relation to the existing materials and pedagogical approaches within a formal school context.
Seen from a pragmatist perspective, the process of translating game scenarios into educational
practices creates challenges that may – or may not – support valuable learning processes. Some
of these challenges can be illustrated by briefly comparing two earlier empirical studies on
Game-Based Teaching (Hanghøj, 2011b; Bourgonjon & Hanghøj, 2011).
Playing a “school game”
In the first study, which is based on interviews with nineteen secondary teachers and classroom
observations of their game sessions with the educational computer game Global Conflicts, the
student experience of the game scenario often clashed with their everyday expectations of
playing computer games (Hanghøj, 2011b). More specifically, the game scenario involved
reading large amounts of text and was unable to provide sufficient forms of interaction for
several students, who consequently termed Global Conflicts a “school game”. Moreover, the
teachers, who were using the game for the first time, often found it difficult to figure out how to
link between the game scenario, curricular aims, pedagogical activities, and the students’
everyday expectations toward games. As a result of clashing expectations, several students,
especially boys, were disappointed by how much reading they had to do and by the lack of 3D
interaction. One of the boys was eventually asked to leave the class for not playing the game as
intended by the teacher. Some students, on the other hand, experienced the game far more
positively, e.g. one girl, who did normally not receive high grades, was praised by her teacher for
a feature article written based on in-game events.
Exploring “horror quality”
The aim of the second empirical study was to describe how secondary teachers try to design
meaningful frameworks to promote students engagement with subject-related content when
playing COTS games, e.g. by using the horror-adventure game Penumbra for teaching linguistic
awareness and genre aspects in the context of mother tongue education (Bourgonjon & Hanghøj,
2011). In order to create an immersive atmosphere for the horror game scenario, one teacher in
the study decided not to use the computer room and asked all the students to play the game on
laptops using headphones in the darkness of the school’s basement. Afterwards, the students
would return to class and work in groups to write scenes that recreated their game experiences
before ending with a plenary discussion on the “horror quality” of a selected sentence from each
group. The teacher consequently managed to create a course that made meaningful translations
across the four knowledge practices of the game scenario, the curriculum, the pedagogy, and the
students’ everyday game experience.
Teachers’ Game Literacy
Comparing the two empirical studies clearly shows how teacher attempts to bring games into
school contexts must meet a range of different validity criteria (Barth, 2002). First of all, both
teachers and students must accept the games to be played as valid learning resources in relation
to the existing ecology of learning materials within a formal school context. Secondly, GBT also
requires close integration with the curricular aims of the teachers and their pedagogical
organization of game sessions. However, in order to create meaningful translations across the
different knowledge practices, it is crucial that teachers have developed game literacy based
upon their experience with and understanding of different game designs. Similarly, it has been
argued how teachers not only have curricular assumptions but also cultural assumptions on the
use of games, i.e. teachers often assume that most students are quite motivated by games and that
most students are competent gamers, which are both somewhat questionable assumptions when
compared to empirical findings on how particular games are played by students in classroom
contexts (Kirkland & Williamson, 2010).
The point here is that Game-Based Teaching requires an alignment of expectations between the
intended possibility space of the game design, the teachers’ understanding of how the game
scenario can be used for educational purposes, and the students’ experience of actually playing
the game. As the first study shows, a serious game such as Global Conflicts may be able to
provide both meaningful learning experiences as well as disappointment and frustration, all
depending on how teachers facilitate the game and whether students accept the game. Similarly,
the second study shows how a teacher was able to make meaningful translations across the four
knowledge practices when re-designing a horror-adventure game for educational purposes. This
involved a relevant setting (a dark basement) for playing the game that came close to the
students’ everyday experience of playing horror games, a pedagogical approach that required the
students to collaborate and re-write scenes from the game, and a clear match with the curricular
aims of Danish as a school subject.
The model shown in Figure 1 is descriptive and assumes no a priori hierarchy between the
knowledge practices involved when teaching with games. Not surprisingly, most of the teachers
and students who I have interviewed tend to value disciplinary and pedagogical knowledge
practices as being the most valid or serious. However, as the two studies indicate, it is crucial
that teachers are sufficiently game literate in order to make relevant translations from the
knowledge practices of particular game scenarios into curricular, pedagogical, and everyday
knowledge practices. This involves an understanding of the assertions of particular game
scenarios (e.g. how the game worlds of Global Conflicts and Penumbra are constituted by
specific rules, values, and ideas), an understanding of particular game media and their genre
aspects (e.g. what it means to play an adventure game), and how game scenarios may be
meaningfully enacted within a school context (e.g. by organizing student collaboration). In this
way, the development of teachers’ game literacy is the primary prerequisite for overcoming the
assumed dichotomy between “gaming” and “schooling”.
2nd CHALLENGE: GAME-BASED TEACHER ROLES
Even though research on games and learning has been conducted for more than four decades, the
actual practice of teaching with games has only come into focus in recent years. Consequently,
the research literature only provides limited descriptions of the pedagogical choices and
considerations that teachers make when they facilitate games. This lack of empirical knowledge
about how and why teachers use games is quite striking, given the fact that teachers are crucial
gatekeepers when it comes to actually selecting, enacting, and assessing educational games as a
part of their teaching. This brings us to the second challenge of Game-Based Teaching: What
roles should teachers assume when they facilitate educational games?
Game-Based Teaching should not be understood as a fixed practice as it involves a repertoire of
shifting teacher roles. The term teacher role is commonly used among educational researchers
and practitioners to describe how teachers respond to various demands and situations. Inspired
by the work of Mead and Goffman, I will conceptualize teacher roles from an interactionist
perspective (Atkinson & Housley, 2003). A role can be defined as, “the normative expectation of
situationally specific meaningful behaviour” (Joas, 1993: 226). Following this definition, teacher
roles are continually configured and re-configured in relation to the situated enactment of mutual
norms and expectations. Thus, I conceive of teacher roles as a relational property of social
interaction within a classroom context. This means that teacher roles should not be seen as fixed
scripts or functions, but rather understood as more or less stable patterns of interaction and
expectations based on processes of continual negotiation, i.e. between a teacher, a game scenario,
and his or her students.
Four Teacher Roles
Based upon earlier empirical studies (Hanghøj & Magnussen, 2010; Hanghøj & Brund, 2012), I
argue that teachers shift back and forth between four different roles when facilitating games for
educational purposes, namely by performing as instructor, playmaker, guide, and evaluator.i The
role as instructor concerns teacher planning and communication of the overall goals of a game
scenario in relation to particular learning objectives. This role is an integrated part of most
teachers’ everyday practices, e.g. when giving overt instructions in relation to a curricular topic.
The role as playmaker refers to the ability of teachers to communicate the tasks, roles, goals, and
dynamics of a particular game scenario as seen from a player perspective. This term is borrowed
from the domain of team sports, where it describes the ability to “read the game”, i.e. by making
passes that enable the offense to score. The reason for applying this metaphor to a classroom
context is that educational games pose somewhat different challenges than required by the
teachers’ more familiar role as instructor. Thus, in order to understand how a given game can be
played, teachers have to imagine how the different phases of the game scenario will unfold when
preparing for the game session and how they plan to respond to the students’ game interaction
when facilitating the game. As a result, GBT requires that teachers make game scenarios “come
alive” for the students. The role of the guide encapsulates how teachers support or scaffold
students in their attempts to meet particular learning objectives when they play a game. Finally,
games also require teachers to perform as evaluators in order to re-play relevant game events and
to provide a qualified response to student game experiences. These four teacher roles should not
be understood as ideal types or as normative goals for teaching with games. Rather, they can be
seen as heuristic categories based on empirical analysis of the game-based practices of teachers.
Accordingly, the roles and their relationship are open to discussion and further analysis.
The similarities and differences between the four roles can be understood as a relationship
between two dimensions of meaning making. The first dimension concerns the on-going
negotiation of meaning between the game practices and the curricular aims, which may be
converging or diverging depending on how the “game encounter” (Goffman, 1961) unfolds
between teacher, students, and game scenario. Thus, in some cases, the game dynamics may be
such a determining factor in the framing of student activities that making translations to the
curricular aims may be difficult for teachers. In other cases, the game practices may not be
meaningful or accepted by the students, which will often make teachers and students frame the
game session as being a schoolish exercise. The second dimension of meaning making concerns
the shift of teacher perspectives between viewing the game participants mainly as students – e.g.
when linking the aims or outcomes of the game session to the curriculum – and viewing the
game participants mainly as players – e.g. when addressing the students as actors within a game
world. Figure 2, below, illustrates the relationship between the four roles.
Figure 2: The shifting roles of Game-Based Teaching
Examples of Teacher Roles
In order to illustrate how these teacher roles can be performed, I will use examples from the
empirical studies mentioned earlier. Following a pragmatist perspective, I will try to show both
the challenges and the possibilities of performing the different roles.
The Teacher as Instructor
One of the main challenges for the teachers in assuming the role as instructor was to explain the
educational purposes for playing the game and to make clear links to the curriculum. One group
of teachers provided lengthy, detailed introductions on the curricular objectives of using
particular games, whereas other teachers perceived the games as experiments and left it more up
to the students to set their own goals in relation to the game. Based upon the findings, identifying
a proper way of introducing a game is difficult as doing so depends wholly upon the relationship
between the game design, the curricular objectives, and the pedagogical approach chosen by the
teacher, i.e. was the game primarily intended to be entertaining, as a drilling exercise, as an
open-ended inquiry, or as a realistic simulation? However, no matter how and why the teachers
decided to introduce a game scenario, the studies show that it was highly important for the
student learning experience that the teachers were able to communicate a clear idea of how the
game practices were linked to educational aims.
The Teacher as Playmaker
In contrast to the teacher role as instructor, which is strongly defined in all my studies of Game-
Based Teaching, there were significant differences in the ways teachers performed as
playmakers. In some cases, the teachers were thoroughly familiar with the game dynamics and
enacted a strong presence as playmaker, e.g. by interrupting the game session in response to
student game practices or by providing detailed information on different strategies for keeping
within the time limit when interviewing non-player characters in the Global Conflicts games.
Interrupting the game in this manner to present relevant information on the game scenario can
also be described as “just-in-time” lessons (Squire, 2004). In other cases, teachers assumed a far
weaker role as playmaker by communicating quite limited information on how to play Global
Conflicts, which often had to do with the fact that the teachers were first-time users of the game.
Other teachers deliberately chose not to provide too much information on how to play the game
as they believed the students were able to explore the games on their own. This final pedagogical
choice is somewhat problematic as teacher expectations are often too high when it comes to how
competent children are at playing games compared to how fast students actually grasp the key
dynamics of a given game (Kirkland & Williamson, 2010).
The Teacher as Guide
Similar to the teachers’ role as playmaker, there was also significant variation among the
teachers regarding how they worked as guides for the students. One group of teachers would
actively monitor how students progressed in the games and whether the students played
individually or in pairs (e.g. Global Conflicts) or in larger groups (e.g. The Power Game). These
teachers would regularly support students that were stuck in the game, promote on-going
reflection in relation to the students’ game practices or try to influence the game practices of
those students that trailed too far off from the learning objectives, e.g. if students got bored with
the Global Conflicts game and turned it into a click-a-thon with questionable educational value.
Another group of teachers, in contrast, chose to stand back and observe the students more from a
distance, by – to quote one of the teachers – “looking over their shoulders”. Again, this choice
may partly be explained by the teachers’ lack of familiarity with the game scenario. However,
for some teachers, it was a conscious pedagogical choice to assume the passive role of an
observant guide who only responded when directly addressed by the students. This choice was
based upon the assumption that it would be wrong to interrupt the students’ experience of being
immersed in the game. This finding points to an important discussion on how teachers should
balance their guidance between assuming an active/interventionist role and a passive/observing
role (Dorn, 1989; Belloti et al., 2010; Henriksen, 2010).
The Teacher as Evaluator
The fourth teacher role concerns the teachers’ ability to evaluate the game outcomes and
students’ learning experiences. Again, there was significant variation among the teachers’ roles
as evaluators. One group of teachers’ mostly referred to the student game experiences with
Global Conflicts or The Power Game as curricular “content” at an overall level that more or less
matched the curricular aims. These teachers would mainly assess the students’ learning outcome
through summative assessment by focusing on the game outcomes and on how well the students
had solved a pre-defined task (e.g. by writing a feature article on the basis of their game
experience). Another group of teachers was more interested in formative assessment and tried to
explore the students’ game-based learning processes when “re-playing” core game experiences
and critical game events in the end-of-game discussions by relating the game actions of the
students with their multiple consequences – both in relation to the game scenario and in relation
to real-world events. In this way, these teachers mainly tried to evaluate student learning
outcomes by projecting and expanding curricular themes that had emerged during the game
Teacher Roles versus Game Design
When identifying game-based teacher roles, it is important to note that the specific modalities,
activities, and affordances of particular game designs tend to be quite influential on how a given
game can or should be facilitated (Hanghøj & Brund, 2012). Such differences become quite
obvious when comparing studies of game sessions based on the 3D computer game Global
Conflicts with game sessions based on the ICT-supported debate game The Power Game. The
teachers in both studies were all first-time users, which meant that they had never previously
taught with the games before. In spite of their lack of experience, two out of five of the teachers
who taught with The Power Game decided to re-design important aspects of the game for their
own purposes, e.g. by adding a procedure for forming a new government based on the
parliamentary election of the game scenario. In contrast, only one out of nineteen teachers who
taught with the Global Conflict games tried to experiment with different ways of teaching with
the game and actively interrupted the students to provide relevant information or to guide
students who engaged in disruptive gameplay. To some degree, this relationship between
strongly and weakly defined teacher roles can be reduced to a matter of game literacy among the
teachers, i.e. how familiar the teacher were with the games they taught. However, based on the
significant differences across the two game examples, it is reasonable to assume that the design
features and affordances of different game scenarios have quite an influence on the ability of
teachers to fulfill active versus passive roles. In this way, it may be argued that the Global
Conflicts series represent a relatively “closed” game design with few options for teachers to re-
design different ways of playing the game, whereas The Power Game represents a more “open”
game design, which can easily be re-designed for various educational purposes.
On the other hand, the third example, mentioned earlier with the teacher who used the COTS
game Penumbra for his course on genres and linguistic awareness, indicates that game-based
teacher roles are not simplistically determined by game designs. This particular horror-adventure
game, based on a relatively linear game design, may arguably be seen as a more “closed” game
space than the Global Conflicts games. Players may easily get stuck when solving riddles in
Penumbra, which is rarely the case with Global Conflicts. COTS games such as Penumbra are
often far more demanding to teach with than educational games, which are mostly designed to be
taught, played and completed within the scope of a few hours (Squire, 2004; Sandford et al.,
2006; Van Eck, 2009). However, the higher complexity of COTS games does not necessarily
result in teachers who are more passive. On the contrary, teachers who are interested in using
COTS games apparently also accept that they have to assume a more active role as teacher
through higher levels of commitment as these games inevitably require more translation work,
curricular re-design, and engagement in order to make sense in a classroom situation. The main
point is that the facilitation of GBT is ultimately a question of teacher ownership of the games
they teach, which is influenced not only by teacher game literacy and the affordances of
particular game designs, but also by teacher game preferences and their pedagogical approaches.
3rd CHALLENGE: INTEGRATING PEDAGOGICAL APPROACHES
Having discussed the challenges of integrating game practices with school practices and the
challenges of assuming game-based teacher roles, I will now turn to the third and final challenge,
which concerns the relationship between the pedagogical approaches of the teachers and the
embedded pedagogies of the games to be used for teaching. Here, the term pedagogy refers not
only to the act of teaching, but also to the values, discourses, and theories of learning that support
it (Alexander, 2008). In this way, teachers must not only be familiar with the games they teach
and what roles to assume when teaching with them, but they must also be aware of their
assumptions about how learning takes place and how they relate with the pedagogical models of
particular games. Given the vast diversity of game formats, genres and dynamics, it is highly
important that teachers are able to “read” the learning dynamics of particular games and
understand how they may – or may not – relate with the teachers’ pedagogical approaches and
curricular aims. This challenge is further strengthened by the fact that game scenarios represent
contingency models with relatively open-ended outcomes that are often difficult to predict.
Based on the empirical studies mentioned earlier, I have explored how GBT reflects individual
teachers’ different pedagogical approaches, which involve their own theories of learning, their
attitudes towards GBT, and their views on how students can or should construct knowledge
when playing games. Inspired by Bruner, the pedagogical approaches of teachers may be seen as
“folk pedagogies”, as teachers often have strong beliefs or assumptions about how and why they
teach that they are not necessarily aware of (Bruner, 1996). This means that their pedagogical
approaches toward games also represent different ways of positioning themselves in relation to
the games they teach (Herrlitz et al., 2007).
Four Pedagogical Approaches
A summarization of my empirical studies of GBT makes it possible to identify four different
pedagogical approaches among teachers who use games in their classrooms. These approaches
include: 1) explorative approaches, 2) scripted approaches, 3) pragmatic approaches, and 4)
playful approaches. Table 1, below, shows that each of these approaches involves different
perspectives on game scenarios and they forms of learning they can facilitate, i.e. games as
inquiry, training/revision, tools, or self-expression. Finally, each of the four approaches also
involves different knowledge criteria (Barth, 2002) for validating what kinds of knowledge that
can – and cannot – be learned through games.
Produce new knowledge
Drill and skill
Reproduction of knowledge
Fun and play
Table 1: Pedagogical approaches to GBT
Care must be taken not to place teachers into one specific approach as individual teachers often –
knowingly or unknowingly – mix several different pedagogical approaches when they teach with
games. Moreover, the aim of presenting the four approaches is not to advocate any of them in
favor of other approaches to GBT. Seen from a pragmatist perspective, it is not possible to
determine a priori which pedagogies and games will create the most educational value as this
issue always depends on the complex interplay between contextual aims, means, and situations
for learning (Biesta & Burbules, 2003). The point is simply that teachers should be aware of
their own pedagogical approaches in order to create relevant links with the pedagogical models
embedded in the games they wish to teach.
Similar to the game-based teacher roles described in the previous section, the relationship
between the four pedagogical approaches can also be illustrated as a relationship between two
dimensions of meaning making. The first dimension concerns the negotiation of aims – i.e.
curricular aims versus the aims of the game scenario – which reflects a fundamental challenge
when teachers position themselves in relation to their pedagogical approaches. The second
dimension concerns teachers’ beliefs and assumptions on how students’ game-based knowledge
is or should be constructed, which covers a broad continuum between realism and
constructivism. These categories are chosen to describe the range of different validity criteria
(Barth, 2002) teachers use when positioning themselves toward the intended and realized
learning outcomes of game sessions. For example, one teacher may be quite focused on the use
of games for learning basic skills and standardized forms of knowledge, which means that he or
she mainly positions the use of games from a realist perspective. Another teacher may be more
focused on how games can be used to play or to experiment, which means they primarily
position their use of games from a constructivist perspective. Figure 3, below, shows the
relationship between the four pedagogical approaches.
Figure 3. The pedagogical approaches of Game-Based Teaching
Examples of Pedagogical Approaches
In order to illustrate the challenge of integrating teacher pedagogies and game pedagogies, I will
draw attention to two games, The Power Game and Global Conflicts, which I have studied being
enacted by different teachers. The first game is an ICT-supported debate game, which divides
players into four to six political parties. Players must then assume roles as politicians, journalists,
and spin doctors in an attempt to win a national parliamentary election. The second game is a
single-player adventure computer game, where players must explore 3D environments that
represent different global conflicts by interviewing non-player characters and then finally
confront “bad guys” with controversial information in order to write a journalistic article. In this
way, the two games represent quite different game formats and genres with different game
dynamics, which also implies different pedagogical models for creating learning environments.
More specifically, The Power Game provides a multi-player open-ended model for embodied
performances through political discourse within the dialogical space of a parliamentary election,
whereas the Global Conflicts games offer a single-player cognitive model for finding
information on particular ideological conflicts through more or less linear narratives. The two
game examples will now be used to illustrate the relationship between the teachers’ pedagogical
models and the “embedded pedagogies” of the games.
Explorative and Pragmatic approaches
After observing and interviewing nineteen teachers who have taught using Global Conflicts, I
identified recurring differences between the teachers who criticized and the ones who accepted
the pedagogical model of the game (cf. Hanghøj & Brund, 2012). This variation can be seen as
representing a difference between the teachers’ explorative and pragmatic pedagogical
approaches to the game. An ICT teacher at an English secondary school who preferred to
conduct inquiry-based teaching is one example of a teacher who took an explorative approach to
the game. This teacher taught with the game in three different classes and decided to experiment
with various ways of playing the game, for example by comparing student findings in the game
with Google searches on similar topics. However, in the post-game interview, he expressed some
disappointment in the fact that the inquiry model of the game provided a narrow framework for
exploration that was too difficult to combine with his open-ended approach to inquiry-based
teaching. In contrast, another teacher, who taught secondary social studies at a Danish school,
chose a more pragmatic approach by using the game to teach about the social conditions of
people in Third World countries. For him, there were also obvious drawbacks with the game,
especially the large amounts of text to be consumed by students with poor reading abilities. Still,
his overall evaluation of the game was quite positive as he described the game as a tool that
could be used to serve specific educational purposes by providing, for example, students with
images of human conflicts in Third World countries.
Playful and Drilling approaches
As mentioned, The Power Game is based on a rather open-ended pedagogical model that allows
players a large degree of freedom when preparing and performing their roles as politicians, spin
doctors, and journalists. In this way, the game also offers greater flexibility for teachers to “re-
design” than Global Conflicts does. An illustration of this flexibility is the two different
pedagogical approaches to the game, i.e. a playful approach and a drilling approach, used by five
upper secondary social studies teachers who I have observed and interviewed (Hanghøj, 2011a).
One of the teachers who exemplifies the playful approach encouraged his students to deliver
convincing, entertaining performances. Moreover, he finished the game session by telling his
students that the game had shown how politics – just like oral student exams – were full of spin
and lies. As a result, this teacher mainly focused on the playful aspects of the game and
promoted no critical discussion of how the outcome of the election game was similar or different
to the aims of the social studies curriculum or to real-world politics. As an example of a drilling
approach to the same game, another teacher decided that The Power Game could be used as a
revision of last year’s introduction to political ideologies. Consequently, she only touched briefly
on the outcomes of the election game and concluded the game session by testing the students’
existing knowledge of politics. During the post-game interview, this teacher stressed how she
clearly preferred more traditional forms of instruction to games and that she initially felt like a
“puppet” being controlled by the game.
Integrating the Pedagogies of Teachers and Games
As the examples suggest, GBT often involves discrepancies between the pedagogical approaches
of individual teachers and the pedagogical models of the games they teach. This was illustrated
by the teacher who felt challenged by the Global Conflicts game design when he attempted to re-
design the game for more open-ended forms of inquiry-based teaching. Similarly, the two
examples with The Power Game show how the pedagogical use of a relatively flexible game
design may result in game sessions that either emphasize playfulness or end up testing student
knowledge with only a limited relation to their game experience. Finally, the example with the
teacher who used Global Conflicts shows how teaching with games may benefit from a
pragmatic approach, where the teacher follows the intended pedagogies of a given game design
to enact a realistic game world.
These findings should not be taken as a complete description of how GBT integrates teacher
pedagogies and game pedagogies because several other curricular aims for teaching with games
exist that extend the idea of using games as teaching methods to learn about particular topics.
Examples of other aims for GBT include learning game design and game production (Kafai,
2006), media literacy (Klimt, 2009), and the use of game elements for facilitating innovation
processes (Magnussen, 2011). These examples all differ from using educational games as a
teaching method, for instance, by focusing on how games can be understood in terms of
multimodal texts, cultural phenomena, and design processes. Thus, distinguishing between three
didactical aims for GBT, shown below in Table 2, is helpful (Hanghøj, forthcoming).
Teaching about games
Teaching with games
Teaching through game design
Design process and product
Table 2: Didactical aims for GBT
As a result, the different pedagogical approaches teachers have toward games cannot be
understood without relating them to their didactical aims.
THE FUTURE OF GAME-BASED TEACHING
The aim of this chapter was to present some of the main opportunities and challenges GBT faces.
In the following, a number of recommendations will be provided that summarize the discussions
and findings presented here as well inform future research and the use of games within
First of all, my description of GBT as an interplay of knowledge practices attempts to show how
teachers need to be sufficiently game literate to “translate” game scenarios into the distinct
knowledge practices of formal education, which involves curricular knowledge practices,
pedagogical knowledge practices and students’ everyday knowledge practices. This finding
corresponds with other empirically based studies of GBT, which also stress the importance of
teacher familiarity with the games they teach in order to create meaningful learning
environments (Squire, 2004; Sandford et al., 2006). One answer to developing the game literacy
of teachers is that games – along with other forms of digital media – should form a more
important part of teacher education, which rarely offers game-related courses (Sardone &
Devlin-Scherer, 2010). However, the analytical framework presented here also points to the need
for a more extensive analysis of the interplaying knowledge practices of GBT in order to
empirically trace and overcome the perceived dichotomies between “schooling” and “gaming”.
As mentioned earlier, these categories are historical and cultural constructs, which can be
contested and reconstructed – cf. the important on-going work with integrating game elements
into the curriculum at the Quest 2 Learn school in New York. There is a strong need for more
research on how the categories of work, school, and play/game can become reconfigured, as they
all represent culturally defined forms of inquiry along a continuum of meaning-making practices
(Dewey, 1916; Huizinga, 1955). By generating new research on the complex relationships
between game scenarios, school cultures, curricular issues, and learners’ everyday lives, it may
be possible to challenge the dichotomies of gaming and schooling and support informed
Secondly, I have argued how the facilitation of GBT requires teachers to shift between different
roles as instructors, playmakers, guides, and evaluators. As the examples show, there is
significant variation in the ways that teachers are able to assume these different roles, especially
for teachers who are first-time users of a particular game. In summary, the facilitation of games
requires that teachers are willing to be risk takers, both in relation to the tension between game
practices and curricular aims, and when shifting between perspectives on the participants as
players and students. In order to gain further understanding of how games can be facilitated, we
need more field studies at the micro level that describe game-related dialogue and the interaction
between teachers and students (Silseth, 2012). The findings discussed earlier show how the
design features of particular games may force teachers to assume more or less passive roles. Seen
from a future perspective, it is crucial that educational game designers are able to develop
“teacher sensitive” games (Arnab et al., submitted), which focus not only on creating immersive
game experiences for players/students, but also on providing active roles for teachers to bring
them closer to the game-based learning experiences of students. At the same time, teacher
facilitation of games can also be supported in a variety of ways, e.g. by creating databases for
sharing lesson plans and course designs (Van Eck, 2009), by creating more efficient
communication on how particular game scenarios should be enacted, such as distributing online
videos of actual game sessions, or by creating online learning communities around particular
game scenarios such as the Quest Atlantis game world. Further research into such initiatives may
help teachers avoid being positioned as passive observers and invite them to take more
ownership of the games that they teach.
Thirdly, I have discussed how GBT may benefit from teachers being aware of their own
pedagogical approaches and how they position themselves in relation to the pedagogies
embedded in particular games. Teachers always embody pedagogical values and assumptions on
learning that may or may not be successfully integrated with particular game designs. As the
examples show, the pedagogical approaches of teachers to games can roughly be categorized as
explorative, pragmatic, playful, and drilling, which mirrors the teachers’ conceptions of games as
learning resources and their knowledge criteria for validating what counts and what does not
count as relevant game-based knowledge. Given the crucial significance of the teacher as a
professional practitioner in choosing, facilitating, and legitimizing games for educational
purposes, it is problematic to over-emphasize the importance of game design as an isolated
aspect of educational gaming. Following this line of thinking, future research on GBT needs
fewer de-contextualized studies of the inherent learning potential of “good game designs” (Gee,
2003; Becker, 2008) and more messy details on how teacher pedagogies and game pedagogies
can – or cannot – become integrated within classroom settings.
Finally, I wish to point to the methodological challenge of studying GBT, which is perhaps the
largest challenge that researchers face when trying to understand and promote the use of games
in formal education. With the growing number of empirical studies on GBT, the important role
of the teacher is slowly receiving more recognition within the research field of games and
learning, which has been dominated by relatively determinist approaches. Still, additional
contextualized research on how games are used to teach is necessary. This is not an easy task.
Seen from a methodological perspective, the study of the everyday use of games in schools is
constrained by the fact that particular games or game environments are often only used a few
times within quite limited time frames that must cover pre-defined curricular aims (Hanghøj &
Meyer, 2010). As a result, providing context-sensitive descriptions of educational game sessions
is difficult as they are mostly enacted and regarded as rather ephemeral phenomena within school
settings. In response to this challenge, some researchers have studied games in more “game
friendly” environments such as extracurricular activities designed for after school settings or
summer schools (Squire, 2004; Shaffer, 2006). Even though these studies provide important
knowledge on game-based learning, it remains questionable whether their findings can be
adapted or retrofitted by teachers working within the curricula of mainstream compulsory
education. Researchers interested in exploring GBT are consequently often faced with a difficult
dilemma of whether to focus on the ideal contexts and convenience samples of designed
experiments of games that generate findings that may be difficult to generalize, or to focus on
everyday teaching practices with games that may often be difficult to locate even though surveys
indicate that a significant percentage of teachers are indeed teaching with games on a regular
basis (Williamson, 2009).
This chapter has presented analytical frameworks and concepts, which may be used to describe
and understand the complex relationship between teachers, students, and game scenarios. The
chapter aims to inform future studies of GBT that focus on teachers’ translation of game-based
knowledge practices, their assumptions and expectations toward games, their shifting roles, and
on how their pedagogical approaches relate to the pedagogical models embedded in particular
games. As mentioned at the outset, game scenarios represent contingency models for exploring
somewhat unpredictable outcomes that mirror not only common conditions for being a citizen in
a modern society, but also that offer valuable opportunities for learning scenario competencies.
However, games do not facilitate learning on their own. By following the different perspectives
on GBT presented here, it becomes possible to describe not only how teachers make pedagogical
choices in relation to games but also how these choices reflect both the teachers’ own
positionings and the way that they become positioned by the games and the educational contexts
in which they play and work.
Seen from a curricular perspective, the frameworks presented here can be used to conduct future
studies of how games can be integrated into existing school curricula, for example, by analyzing
how teachers translate game scenarios into particular curricular knowledge practices (i.e. subject-
specific aims, themes, problems). Similarly, the frameworks could also be used for planning
activities and aims within a game-based curriculum. The most demanding, but also the most
important, part of this translation work involves matchmaking between particular game dynamics
and curricular themes. In this way, future research can provide information on how teachers
change their perspectives between being designers of learning scenarios, which address specific
curricular aims, facilitators of game scenarios, which provide students with game activities that
allow them to make complex and challenging choices, and being reflective practioners (Schön,
1983) who theorize and adjust their pedagogical assumptions. Thus, GBT continually requires
teachers to design, facilitate, and theorize the educational value of game scenarios within their
Due to the complexity and contingency of the game scenarios, the knowledge practices, roles,
and pedagogies of Game-Based Teaching imply that game scenarios should not be reduced to
“content” and the efficient delivery of pre-defined curricular packages. In this way, GBT fits
poorly with the image of the teacher as a transmitter or implementer of existing curricula. Rather,
the views on Game-Based Teaching presented here are inextricably bound to the notion of
teachers as “curriculum makers” because they are an “integral part of the curriculum constructed
and enacted in the classroom” (Clandinin & Connelly, 1992: 336; Shawer, 2010). What follows,
then, is that the successful integration of games into the curriculum is ultimately a question of
providing teachers with sufficient curricular autonomy, game literacy, and knowledge about how
to design and facilitate meaningful learning experiences.
I wish to acknowledge the participation of all the teachers who have taken part in the empirical
studies described here. Moreover, I wish to acknowledge my colleague Max Møller, who has
provided invaluable feedback on many of the ideas presented in this chapter.
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Game-Based Teaching (GBT): Refers to the teacher practices involved in selecting, facilitating,
and validating the use of games for educational purposes. The term is also used in contrast to the
commonly used term Game-Based Learning, which tends to neglect teacher perspectives on
educational gaming by focusing more on issues such as student motivation, game design
features, and the assessment of learning outcomes.
Game scenario: Used to focus on the most important aspect of games as seen from an
educational perspective. Basically, game scenarios refers to games as contingency models that
explicitly allow us to imagine, enact, and reflect upon the relationship between particular actions
and their actual or possible consequences.
Knowledge practice: Refers to a “body” or “tradition” of knowledge that involves a substantive
corpus of assertions, a range of media and representations, and a social organization (Barth,
2002). Moreover, any knowledge practice always involves specific criteria for validating
knowledge. In this way, GBT may be understood as an interplay of different knowledge
practices. For example, a game-based course may involve the exploration of a particular game
scenario in the Global Conflicts series (scenario-specific knowledge practice), the specialized
discipline of social studies (curricular knowledge practice), project-based group work
(pedagogical knowledge practice), and leisure game experiences (everyday knowledge
Pedagogical approach: Refers not only to the act of teaching, but also the values, discourses
and theories of learning that support it (Alexander, 2008). In this way, GBT always reflects
individual teachers’ different pedagogical approaches, which includes their own theories of
learning, their attitudes towards GBT, and their views on how students can or should construct
knowledge when playing games. The pedagogical approaches of teachers may also be seen as
“folk pedagogies”, as teachers often have strong beliefs or assumptions about how and why they
teach that they are not necessarily aware of (Bruner, 1996). This means that the pedagogical
approaches of teachers toward games also represent their different ways of positioning
themselves in relation to the games they teach (Herrlitz et al., 2007).
Scenario competence: A meta-competence defined by the ability to imagine, enact, and reflect
upon the relationship between particular actions and their actual or possible consequences in
relation to specific knowledge practices. Analytically, scenario competence can be studied in
relation to three interrelated aspects: problem scenarios, social scenarios, and identity scenarios.
These three aspects may be seen as corresponding terms with the three major functions of
education: qualification, socialization, and subjectification (Biesta, 2010).
Teacher role: The notion of “role” is simultaneously one of the most widespread and most
poorly defined terms within the social sciences, and this also goes for teacher roles (Biddle,
1997). Thus, the concept of a teacher role could refer to anything from a teachers’ social position
to actual classroom behavior to expectations toward his or her own role. In this chapter, teacher
role is conceptualized from an interactionist perspective and defined as, “the normative
expectation of situationally specific meaningful behavior” (Joas, 1993: 226). Following this
definition, teacher roles are continually configured and re-configured in relation to the situated
enactment of mutual norms and expectations. In this way, teacher roles represent a relational
property of social interaction within a classroom context. This means that teacher roles should
not be seen as fixed scripts or functions, but rather understood as emerging patterns of interaction
and expectations based on processes of continual negotiation between e.g. the teacher, the game
scenario, and the students.
i In an earlier study (Hanghøj & Magnussen, 2010), I have defined a fourth teacher role, which I call explorer. On-
going feedback from researchers and practioners in the field, however, indicates that this term is too vague to grasp
the important task teachers have in providing a formative and summative response to game outcomes and student
learning experiences, e.g. by re-playing crucial game events or engaging in critical dialogue. Consequently, the term
explorer has been replaced with the term evaluator.