Game-Based Social and Emotional Learning for High School English Class

Museum of Me is a game-based learning unit that embraces the rich interactive narrative of What Remains of Edith Finch, catalyzing identity exploration, a pillar of the resilience framework for social and emotional learning (SEL).

By Susan Rivers
February 5, 2019

(Yes, it is possible!)

iThrive Games works to benefit teens at the intersection of game development, education, and mental health. That is why I was so excited at the opportunity to partner with Paul Darvasi, a teacher at Royal St. George's College in Toronto and Matthew Farber, an assistant professor at the University of Northern Colorado's School of Teacher Education, in creating Museum of Me, a game-based learning unit involving Giant Sparrow's, What Remains of Edith Finch.

Developer:  Giant Sparrow

Social and emotional learning (SEL) encompasses educational strategies that support students in developing and practicing their social and emotional skills. This includes everything from self-awareness to responsible decision making to relationship skills. Games offer a unique opportunity to support SEL in high school classrooms, where teens need more challenging and realistic content and engagement than the practices used in elementary classrooms. Games help transport teens to new worlds, enabling their exploration of new places and possibly, new versions of themselves. As the Guardian wrote in its 2017 review, "What Remains of Edith Finch is a game that succeeds in recreating the childhood joy of reading a book and being utterly transported into its pages, only to reach the end and realise it's not real."

In talking with EdSurge recently about Museum of Me, Paul Darvasi commented, "Schools are very emotional places that don't invite emotion, and that is a big problem." Many games present challenges that require players to adapt and grow in ways that promote deep learning and self-awareness, allowing players to experience a broad range of emotions. Feelings of betrayal, guilt, forgiveness, frustration, pride, and so much more, can be felt while playing games making them an incredible asset for teen's social and emotional development.

How We Created Museum of Me

I was looking for a game-based learning project for iThrive and knew we needed a special game that would authentically invite teens to explore their own emotions alongside a compelling character study. Paul and Matt knew they wanted to create a classroom unit for What Remains of Edith Finch almost immediately.

What Remains of Edith Finch is a game that follows a girl who is exploring the history of her family through the home that she grew up in. The game invites players to a safe place to explore and learn, while also leaving them feeling humbled and mesmerized by the vast world around them. There's so much in this game for students to immerse themselves in, (thank you, creative director, Ian Dallas, and the team at Giant Sparrow!) and that inspired us to design a teaching unit that would measure up. Matt believes that video games are the "storytelling mediums of the 21st century," and in that spirit, Museum of Me gives students and teachers a way to discuss identity and build on social and emotional skills that are of grave importance beyond the classroom.


We embraced the rich interactive narrative of What Remains of Edith Finch and knew it would be an ideal catalyst for a game-based learning (GBL) unit on identity exploration, one of the pillars of the resilience framework for SEL, cited and used by iThrive advisor Dr. Rachel Poliner. To design the learning objectives underlying the study we gave equal weight to the game, and standards for both English Language Arts (ELA) and SEL. We landed on a set of learning objects that include exploring identity and character, comparing and contrasting public and personal narratives, examining how possessions represent and maybe even misrepresent aspects of identity and reflection on self.

We used the principles of universal design for learning (UDL) to design the activities and assessments that comprise the lessons. We worked hard to make sure our design choices took into consideration our understanding that each teen develops differently and engages with concepts from different access points. It was very important for us to create opportunities to engage all students deeply in a compelling learning experience, driven by their own interests and ideas. Learning scientist and universal design for learning expert (and an advisor on the unit), Dr. Gabrielle Schlichtmann of EdTogether remarked, "The curriculum authors have worked to build a flexible experience so that teachers can meet the needs of all students - there are many ways for students to access the content, show what they know, and engage in deeper learning."

The Museum of Me's multi-method assessments happens when students create artifacts both in and outside of class. In one assignment students read "Chameleon" and reflect on their own relationship with an item of clothing or some other status-oriented possession that projects identity. They then create two 30-second vlogs introducing two items that express their identity or that are attached to a meaningful personal story. One vlog is to be public-facing and the other is to be private. As students analyze the process of creating publicly- versus privately-facing vlogs, they consider what identity is and how might its expression change depending on the audience.

Students also create memes, based on the one below. They select photos to represent how they see themselves, and how they think their friends, family, teacher, and others see them. Dr. Schlichtmann said of the meme project, "I love this assignment - it is authentic and relevant. I also think that this humorous format can dampen discomfort students might feel."

Not Sure Where to Start with GBL in Your Classroom?

If you are interested in using games in your high school classrooms, check out this video about why educators are using games in their classrooms and our game-based learning guide for some tips to get you started. Also, be sure to check out this great article from our archives by Barbara Chamberlin and Jesse Schell for other terrific pointers.   

Join Us in Piloting Museum of Me

If you are interested in trying out the Museum of Me unit in your classroom or after school program, contact us for an early release version.

Let Us Know How You're Using Games with Teens

I love to see games integrated into engaging and collaborative discussions with teens. Gameplay offers an innovative and currently underutilized way to deeply engage students and support them in learning and practicing fundamental social and emotional skills. By designing school lessons around a medium that teens are already interested in, we are able to drive innovative thinking by allowing teens to explore themselves and the world around them in a safe, thought-provoking environment. What will you create? Be sure to let us know — we'd love to feature you on our site!

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If you want to learn more about game-based learning, check out Matt's recent books, Game-Based Learning In Action, and Gamify Your Classroom, both published by Peter Lang Inc.

iThrive's Senior Director of Learning, Michelle Bertoli, has been invaluable in forging our collaboration with Paul and Matt and supporting their efforts. She's blissfully enjoying her maternity leave and will return in the Spring.




Susan Rivers, PhD, is the executive director and chief scientist of iThrive Games. A social psychologist, she uses her expertise in emotional intelligence and designing social and emotional learning interventions to inform the development of game-based interventions and establish a collaborative and innovative network of teens, game developers, psychologists, affective scientists, funders, and investors. She has published extensively in scholarly journals and books, is the co-author of several curricula on social and emotional learning, and speaks at national and international conferences and events. Susan earned her B.A. from Skidmore College and her Ph.D. from Yale University.