It can be difficult to teach one group about the oppression of another, especially in situations when the oppression stems from multiple factors. “Intersectionality” is the feminist theory that when you combine different forms of oppression (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) they interact in unique and unexpected ways. It’s not easy to learn about racism if you’re not a racial minority, but it’s even harder to understand the struggles of a person who is a member of multiple minority groups, such as a female illegal immigrant or a man who is both deaf and gay.

Teacher Samantha Allen wanted to teach her students about intersectionality, and to do it she decided to turn to a video game—the action RPG Bastion by Supergiant Games. In the game, players have the option of “worshiping” the idols of evil gods. When the idols are activated, particular obstacles are added to the game that make it harder to play. Enemies recover faster, your attacks have less effect, it becomes harder to run away, etc. Each idol has its own negative consequences.

Allen assigned random configurations of idols to her students. First, they played the unencumbered version of the game. Then, they activated the idols. Their experiences, as Allen had hoped, became a metaphor for the experiences of minority peoples everywhere.

One student observed that, because an idol prevented him from collecting health tonics from fallen enemies, he had to be more cautious in his attacks and shoot them from afar instead of placing himself within their attack range. However, because a second idol increased the enemies’ healing power, the player could not shoot them faster than they could recover. He couldn’t win.

The student who had the pleasure of activating every idol quickly realized how hopeless the game had become. The idols’ effects blurred together, creating frustrating and impossible gameplay. She said, “I honestly can’t tell what is doing what.” Despite repeated attempts, her longest period of gameplay lasted only 25 seconds.

Allen explained, “If you are a transgender woman of color, for instance, you might not know whether people are mistreating you because they are racist or because they are sexist or because they are transphobic. The answer could be any or all of the above. You might not be able to tell ‘what is doing what.'”

Even when video games aren’t specifically designed to teach a specific skill or concept, they continue to be fantastic sources for educational material. By allowing her students to actively experience the effects of the intersectionality phenomenon, Allen was able to translate complex feminist theory into an enlightening and engaging classroom experience.

Know about another teacher who is using video games creatively in a classroom? Tell us about it in the comments.

(Source: Border House Blog)

This article was written by

Courtney is Pixelkin's Associate Managing Editor. While working with the Girl Scouts of Northern California, she mentored young girls in teamwork, leadership, personal responsibility, and safety. Today, she spends her time studying adolescent development and using literary analysis techniques to examine video games.