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Ethical Case Study: Using Violent Video Game Content to Teach Literacy

Updated on November 13, 2012

This article will summarize an ethical case study. An analysis of the outcome will relate innovative literacy strategies and implications for curriculum development. Future recommendations will ascertain the benefits of implementing innovative reading strategies.

Finding innovative literacy strategies is challenging and crucial for adult learning. One learning center implemented the use of a video game, Runner, to teach literacy skills to low performing males age 18-30. However, the video game simulates popular games with violence such as “Tomb Raider..and dark Blade Runner-like atmosphere.” (Kambouri, Thomas, & Mellar, 2006, p. 2). The characters in the game are prison inmates with missions to fulfill. The game requires students to “read written text, understand oral narrative, and interpret what is being presented in images.” (Kambouri, Thomas, & Mellar, 2006, p.9) As an educator, the challenge of creating innovative learning activities that is appropriate is the goal. Nonetheless, the learning center searched for an effective game to match curriculum goals. A case study evaluation was completed to determine if curriculum goals were met.

The goal of the case study was to encourage students to “complete a literacy course delivered in a game format.” (Kambouri, Thomas, & Mellar, 2006, p. 2) Learning center administrators hypothesized that young adult males are comfortable playing video games, which should aid in increasing literacy scores. “It gave them the opportunity to use a medium in which they had expertise..” (Kambouri, Thomas, & Mellar, 2006, p. 2) The case study evaluated 10 young adult students literacy progress. The game, Runner, was connected to the internet and enabled educators to daily check progress. The curriculum goals to match video game learning outcomes are “learners incorporating their social situations into their literacy learning.., developing critical literacy skills.., and learners need to be active learners…” (Kambouri, Thomas, & Mellar, 2006, p.3)

Does content matter, if students experience academic growth?

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The evaluation outcomes reveal that curriculum goals were met. The evaluation consisted of interviews and observations of the “game process. “ (Kambouri, Thomas, & Mellar, 2006, p.3) Because the young adults were avid video game players, making real world connections to the reading content was simple. In the area of developing critical literacy skills, students were able to decipher unfamiliar terms through context and prior experience. In addition, the video game, Runner, motivated active learning in students. Students could collaborate with partners to help problem solve challenges and students could send electronic written messages.

The implications for using a violent video game based in prison to teach literacy skills are varied. One of the learning center goals was to find an effective way to teach literacy skills to a young adult digital generation. The traditional strategies and reading resources were not effective for improving literacy scores. Finding an interactive strategy which motivates student learning was a crucial issue. In addition, the need to improve listening, reading, and writing skills were achieved through the video game. Students were unaware of literacy improvements because of the level of comfort with the video game. One student mentioned: “It is a game, but it’s not just a game. It is compelling and absorbing. There was no effort to play; it was fun!” (Kambouri, Thomas, & Mellar, 2006, p.8) Therefore, student learning was based on interesting and engaging activities, which promoted literacy skills.

Future recommendations for developing engaging technical products for improving literacy skills are key issues. However, video content should reflect positive and appropriate situations. Young adult males struggling in literacy were used to pilot this program. Not only did the video game display violence, but the characters were prisoners. Although the content actively engaged adult learners, an educational institution should not promote prison life. The young adults in this case study admitted to playing violent video games outside of an academic setting. In personal experiences, adult students play various types of video games using college computers. The decision to filter certain types of video content is a challenge on college campuses. Therefore, this pilot program should be the basis for creating innovative and engaging video games with positive content.

Video Games and Learning

In conclusion, this ethical case study has proven the need to develop appropriate and innovative video games for improving literacy skills. The case study evaluation revealed that adult students were able to make real-world connections to reading material, use context to solve unfamiliar words, and actively engage in learning. Literacy skills improved through writing, reading, and oral mediums. The ethical issues involve the use a violent video game to teach literacy skills. The video game characters were based in prison with missions for the player to solve. Unfortunately, many students at any age would enjoy playing the video game Runner. However, educational institutions have a responsibility to set high curriculum content and goals.


Kambouri, M., Thomas, S., & Mellar, H., (2006). Playing the literacy game: a case study in adult Education. Learning, Media and Technology, Vol. 31 (4). Pp. 395-410.


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    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago

      Hi, Missy,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to view my hubs and I am looking forward to having you as a follower.


    • Missy Mac profile image

      Missy Mac 3 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks Kenneth:

      I believe that integrating technology into the curriculum is crucial for training learners. This article summarizes various types of content that a teacher uses to train our children. I will visit your hubs.

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Missy,

      Great read. Very well-written. Voted up and all the way. Wonderful presentation.

      I cordially-invite you to go to my place and read one or two of my works and then be one of my followers.

      I would love that.


      Kenneth/ from northwest Alabama

    • Missy Mac profile image

      Missy Mac 4 years ago from Illinois

      Most definitely, educators need to be careful when planning lessons. Even a parent suggestions need to be reviewed before presenting to students. Thanks for reading.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      This shows the need to develop appropriate video games for adult learning. In this case, the end doesn't justify the means!