Video Games That Teach Sexuality and Gender

A 2014 teacher survey by the Cooney Center (part of the Sesame Workshop) found that 74% of K-8 teachers report using digital games in classrooms. Video games are terrific tools for learning all sorts of subjects. You can learn World War I history by playing Valiant Heart: The Great War; you can explore design through Minecraft; you can analyse urban systems with SimCity, and you can practice your guitar skills with Rocksmith (a game similar to Guitar Hero but with a real guitar).

Rocksmith

Theory

I did a graduate thesis at the University of Chicago on what was the evidence that games were effective instructional tools. Let’s look at the theory that’s been developed (backed by over 20 years of research) around games and learning:

  • games and simulations are engaging, maybe more so than other teaching methods.
  • games and simulations adjust to learners, providing “personalized instruction”.
  • games and simulations easily generate lots of student data.
  • games and simulations are cheap to run and update, when compared to other teaching methods.
  • assessment is included within the games and simulations; for example, in Rocksmith, your guitar playing is being assessed in real time, chord by chord. Feedback is also given right away.
  • games and simulations allow the learner to experience and manipulate situations and phenomena that would otherwise be impossible or impractical to do; for example, This War of Mine is game where you play a group of civilians trapped in an urban war zone. The game is designed to make you feel the horrors the civilians are going thru: violent death at any moment, no electricity, lack of food and sanitation, no access to medical care, criminal gangs, rebel and military snipers, looters.
  • games and simulations make the learner assume and commit to the identity of a game’s main character; for example, in games like SimCity or Cities: Skylines, you assume the role of a city planner, you really feel the city is your creation and responsibility.
Cities: Skylines
  • games and simulations offer information just when it is useful, in a meaningful context. Games don’t usually teach you a skill that you’re not gonna use right away.

A lot of this theory comes from the work of Arizona State University scholar Jim Gee, particularly his books Good Video Games and Good Learning & What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Prof. James Paul Gee has also pointed out that learning happens within games and also around them. Learning happens inside of Minecraft while playing, and then players go read guides on how to build interesting things inside the game. Millions of these published guides have been sold, making Minecraft one of the most successful literacy teaching tools in the past few years.

University of Wisconsin’s Constance Steinkuehler, another important researcher, has studied the reading levels of wikis of World of Warcraft and has found the average reading level of the text to be 12 grade (higher than news magazine like Newsweek). She has also researched scientific reasoning in the forums of games like World of Warcraft and found players formulating hypotheses, gathering evidence to test their hypothesis about the systems in the game.

World of Warcraft

UC Irvine’s researcher Mimi Ito published a terrific book a few year ago called Engineering Play: A Cultural History of Children’s Software. Part of it looks at the history of educational games like Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and part of it is an ethnography of how kids play and learn from SimCity.

There are a number of yearly academic conferences on the subject of games and learning, for example Games Learning Society and Games for Change.

There’s also tremendous excitement about the potential uses of virtual reality for learning everything from medical training to meditation. All the major tech companies are releasing VR headsets in the next few months.

Broader field of sex/gender and games

Let’s now look into the broader genre of games related to sex and romance and then we’ll look more specifically at video games that teach sexuality and gender. There’s a yearly summit in Norway called Lyst about romance, love and sex in games. There’s also the GaymerX conference and a Queerness and Games conference, both in the Bay Area.

Among games developers, there’s the really interesting work of Robert Yang. He created a game about helping someone out in a male shower. Another one of his games is about taking great dick pics. I played one of his games called Stick Shift, about pleasuring a manual transmission car and bringing it to climax by stroking the shifter. It was really fun and very hard and I found it a super erotic experience. He’s also written a terrific series of articles on sex games.

Stick Shift

There’s also the work of Nina Freeman, for example her new game Cibele, where you play a 19 year old girl who has become close with a young man she met in an online game, it deals with love, sex, and the internet. I haven’t’ played it but I did play her short game how do you Do It, which is about a kid imagining what sex is like by manipulating her dolls.

Also worth highlighting is the terrific work of game scholar Anita Sarkeesian and her Feminist Frequency YouTube channel examining portrayals of women in gaming. She reflects on how female characters are given minimal roles or used as sexual, victimized props. It’s a really eye-opening analysis, especially for those of us that aren’t women.

Video Games That Teach Sexuality and Gender

  • Merritt Copas has a simple text-based game that highlights the importance of getting your partners’ explicit consent when engaging in sex.
  • Nicki Case has a nice short game on coming out of the closet.
  • Then there’s HappyPlayTime, a game for girls to learn how to masturbate in which users simulate various techniques by moving their fingers over their touchscreens in certain patterns and at certain pace.
  • Luxuria Superbia is a wonderful and colorful game that deals with the importance of pacing and self-control during sex. In Luxuria Superbia, you use your fingers to touch flowers in a magical tunnel that talks dirty to you in the loveliest of ways. The trick is to pace yourself and not touch too many flowers too quickly.
  • A masterpiece of the genre is dys4ia, a clever and original simulation of what it’s like to go thru hormone-replacement therapy for transgender individuals.
dys4ia

Any questions? Contact me at gameplaylearn.com, a news/analysis site I run on games and learning.

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