I have enjoyed creating and sharing social justice objectives and game reviews over the past few weeks. Social justice efforts have becoming increasingly important in the last ten or twenty years, both in education and in our everyday media and discourse. I’m glad that things like misogyny, dismantling the gender binary, including and amplifying the voices of people of color, and so on are now a part of regular, daily dialogues in multiple contexts. That said, it is important to not become complacent or to pat oneself on the back and accept that we are doing enough to be inclusive and promote social justice in our classrooms. I think it easy, especially for members of privileged classes (white, cisgender, heterosexual, male, etc.), to include one or two diverse texts or create some classroom rules about being inclusive and think that that is enough. It’s a great start and those are noble goals, but there is constant self-reflection and awareness required to achieve a socially just classroom. These efforts need to be explicit and embedded into practice every day. I think that is some of the power of our social justice objectives assignment: social justice must be considered from the very start of a teacher’s practice, which is in their macro-level instructional and course design. It’s also essential that we consider multiple groups when we attempt to make our courses more socially just, even if we don’t think that members of the groups are present in our classrooms. Not all differences are easy to see, for example – we may not be aware of any trans students in our classroom, for example, but chances are, at least some of our students are questioning or have questioned their gender identities. And if that is not the case, we can at least promote empathy, understanding, and awareness of these marginalized groups.
To focus now on reviewing games, I have done some research and scholarship in game design prior to this course, but I had not considered them in the context of my group’s assigned focus (immigrant students). On some level, I think that is a blind spot of mine, not being an immigrant myself or having had many students who were immigrants (or came from immigrant families). So I value that the assignment forced me to examine that blind spot and consider things from a new perspective. I also feel that video games can be especially powerful as an instructional tool for immigrant students because they can create experiences and content that is not dependent on language, therefore resolving one of the many challenges facing immigrant students (who are often also English Language Learners and/or who speak multiple languages). A game like Fractured Minds, which my group reviewed, has (from what I can tell – I haven’t had a chance to play it yet!) little written text or language. It can be enjoyed and experienced even if you do not read or speak English. Other games will have language select options and/or character voices dubbed in English. This allows all students, regardless of their home language or language experiences, to have a shared visual experience and context that can then be discussed, dissected, and related to the course content and learning objectives. I also believe that video games have a uniquely immersive element because they allow players to interact directly with a created world. Take, for example, Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna): players directly participate in an Iñupiat myth. They hear their language and see a visual representation of their symbols, which often center around their natural environment (the wolf, the northern lights, etc.). It’s a powerful experience that I believe can build empathy and understanding in a manner that is distinct and perhaps more immersive than simple reading or watching might be.
Finally, to speak of group dynamics, I always appreciate the opportunity to work in a group, especially in an online course. In an online-only program like ours, it can be easy to feel isolated; working in groups I find has allowed me to build relationships with other students in the program that extend outside one assignment or course, and these relationships become support systems. I believe my group interacted well – we communicated over email and a text group chat, and we used Google Docs to collaboratively draft our assignments. It’s really helpful to be able to leave and comments and assign them to collaborators in a shared document because it allows us to clearly divide up multi-part assignments like those we have completed over the last few weeks.
To speak about my personal contributions to the social justice objectives, I read the articles “10 Ways Designers Can Support Social Justice” and “Social Justice Teaching Through the Sympathetic Touch of Caring and High Expectations for Students of Color.” I summarized the key points from the two articles in the shared Google Docs, then synthesized them and connected them to our assigned social justice topic (immigrant students). I then wrote one of the objectives in our list. For the game reviews, I wrote the sections on Fractured Minds and Never Alone (the latter since I had personal experience with it). In assignments like these, which focus explicitly on social justice and marginalized groups, it can be especially powerful to work in groups because we can shine a light on each other’s blind spots. We can integrate multiple, diverse perspectives, and therefore achieve a more varied, inclusive result.