How might we determine the learner’s character strengths through the games they play?

As I immerse myself in the world of gamification, I’m discovering a lot more about my students as they interact with their devices and their games.  I’m discovering a hidden craving that they don’t get to express in the classroom but they freely express with the games they play.  Before I get into the driving question I posed at the beginning of this blog, I want to give you a brief personal memoir as a way of setting up this analysis.


As a middle school student, I was a gamer.  During the summers, I was addicted to playing my Nintendo and Super Nintendo games especially when it came to a couple games called Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III and IV.  In my lifetime, I probably played Final Fantasy III and IV 2-3 times each and Chrono Trigger around 10-11 times. Final Fantasy games took a total of 50 – 70 hours to play and Chrono Trigger on average took about 40 hours to play. Why was I immersed for so many hours of play?

As adults might say, “It’s just a game. ” Great RPGs (Role Playing Games) games not only have a great story but they have well developed characters that become your crew, melancholy music, and they give you power to decide the fate of your characters. As an adult reflecting back to my middle school years, there was a craving that needed to be met that these games fulfilled.  Staying at home during the summer after a while got really boring.  I really didn’t have much to do and didn’t really have places to go except taking the Samtrans to Serramonte Shopping Center, a trip to Straw Hat Pizza to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Street Fighter 1, or the Simpsons, a walk to Woolworth to check out the fishes and birds, and some sprinkles of family outings. I tried Park and Recreation but I grew out of that after elementary school.  I was looking for an adventure kind of like the Goonies but you could only watch Goonies by yourself on VHS for so many times.  Adventuring was a lonely endeavor. The only thing that gave me that same high was playing Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy.  Chrono Trigger gave me an opportunity to fulfill my need of adventure as I traveled through time to change the course of time and save the world.  This game gave me purpose and meaning. Not only did I save the world from Lavos, but I did it with company.  Saving the world didn’t feel lonely after all.  I had the opportunity to travel the world through different times to explore terrain, fight monsters, gain experience, find treasures and weapons that served as tools along the journey, solve puzzles, discover 11 different outcomes/endings, and achieve goal that led me to the ultimate goal.  This game gave me hope, nurtured some skills that I needed practice on, and allowed me to discover some character strengths that I thought I never had. According to Jane McGonigal from her book Reality is Broken, “Or, worse, our real-world work isn’t hard enough. We’re bored out of our minds. We feel completely underutilized. We feel unappreciated. We are wasting our lives.”


What are character strengths and why are they used?  Character Strengths and Virtues come from literature by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligmen along with a variety of social scientists whom classified a number of virtues as a way of describing the strength and needed growth of any individual.  “The emphasis is on classifying psychological ingredients of goodness in human beings across cultures, nations, and beliefs, rather than prescribing what humans “should” do to be good or improve themselves. Whereas the Periodic Table of Elements is a classification of elements on a microscopic level, the VIA Classification is a classification of positive traits in people. Strengths such as curiosity, kindness, bravery, perseverance, hope, gratitude, teamwork, humility, and fairness are part of this framework.” (Gardner, H, 2017)

A couple days ago I took the the VIA Character Survey to figure out what my strengths were and the results are below. Before subjecting me to any judgement, this character survey results displayed which characters strengths are my strengths.  We tend to look at rankings from a deficiency point of view and in facts there are areas of growth that I’m actively working on.  To work on them, opportunity must arise for me practice and apply them. This survey also shows that I leverage my top 8 strengths to give me the opportunity to strengthen the other character strengths. At the end of the day it’s all about courageous and sometime uncomfortable exposure to experiences that will help us grow in those areas.

Even though I’m not a middle school student, a lot of strengths sustained themselves through out my whole life especially creativity, curiosity,  appreciation for beauty, gratitude, love of learning, prudence, and hope.  How might my love for playing Chrono Trigger inform educators of my character strengths?

CREATIVITY:  I loved how this game was designed from the music, the landscape, character development, and storytelling.  I loved solving problems and trying to figure out how to defeat bosses and figure out where certain treasures are at so I could get access to another area in the games.

CURIOUSITY/APPRECIATION FOR BEAUTY:  I loved exploring the landscape across time.  The aesthetics of the game was well designed. I’m always checking what certain things do, what treasure boxes I can open up, and what would happen if I used this magic.  I asked a lot of “what if” questions in the midst of playing this game.

GRATITUDE: This game reflected humanity especially the end of the game where Chrono’s crew diverged back to their assigned timeline. Before they left,  all of the characters not only said thank not for saving their world but also for giving each other company as they took on this heroic journey.

LOVE OF LEARNING: I loved learning the game’s machinery and skills needed to level up and learn new magic and tech skills.

PRUDENCE: I’m careful and strategic on how I played the games.  I’m always on the defense as a way to leverage my offense as my boxing coach might say.  I looked at the scenario of the problem, applied risk analysis, and decided which decisions benefited me as I played the game.

HOPE: I always played the game so that there was always a good ending, even though there were moments where I triggered bad endings well. Optimism and perseverance is key when you hope for the good.

If you have time, take the the VIA Character Survey.  What character strength do you hold and how might you harness them in your life?  If you play games (digital or non-digital) why do you play them and how does the game you play inform you of your character strengths?


A lot of my S.T.E.A.M students are pure game addict.  They come into room during lunch and play games on their devices until they hear they bell. Sometimes they aren’t even aware that the bell had rung.  I have students sneaking their phones out of their pocket to play games during class. Most days I vilified this action and somedays I attempt to learn from this opportunity.  I joined many of my students during lunch as they played their games and I learned a lot of things in regards to their chracter strengths. This new game, Fornite, was especially a favorite game with many of my male STEAM students.  From playing Fortnite, they loved working with each other and competing with each other.  They enjoyed finding items and using those items as power-ups.  They loved building structures.  There was also MineCraft.  Students loved exploring a variety of terrains, finding items as power-up, competing with their peers and non-peers, and creating environments. There was Clash of Clans and Clash Royale which used competition, leveling up process, and the use of power up.  As student played these games, I saw similar themes and particular needs that I and maybe other educators weren’t meeting.

  1. Our students are curious, they want to explore and test things out. Games allowed them to test variables with the least amount of risk. How might we create learning experiences where we encourage physical and tangible curiosity and meaning making?
  2. They want to be creative. They used tools manipulate their environments. They want to strategize to increase their chances of reaching their outcome. Our learner are born to make, produce, and design. Unfortunately according to Sir Ken Robinson, “Schools killed creativity.” as education became prescribed and rote. How might we design a learning experience where our learners are immerses in designing and producing as a way if demonstrating learning?
  3. They wanted some power to make choices for themselves. The games they play make learning how to play a personal endeavor. Our students implicitly create goals and follows up on them. How can we facilitate decision making in the classroom?
  4. They are in need of immediate feedback to feel a sense of achievement once they complete a quest, mission, or level. How might we provide immediate and positive feedback for things that our students are working on.
  5. They loved to work with each other cooperative and competitively. How might we incorporate more social interactions in the learning experiences we designed for our students?
  6. Last of all, our students are so immersed in the game play. They want to master the skills and will persist until that happens. Our gamers are in a state of flow. Challenge is needed for this immersion to take place but also good game designers are able to scaffold those skills throughout the game. This balance of challenge and skills development it vital for flow to take place? How might we design learning experiences that immerses our learners into an addicting state of flow?

I also wanted to strengthen their areas of growth such as bravery, kindness, perseverence, leadership, self-regulation, and humility.  It’s key to leverage their strengths to help them practice their areas of growth. But I also recognize that it’s difficult to teach these skills. Many of these skills are caught in the moment.  What we can do as learning faciliators is to design learning experience where they get to practices not only their strengths but also practice working on their areas of growth.  If learning happens in non-diverse ways (having limited teaching strategies) we will miss the opportunity to leverage our learners strengths and for them to practice on their areas of growth.


Though I see the benefits of compliance rules such as putting away your phone and asking our students to stop playings games for the sake of focus, I also realize that this is an opportunity to figure our how the games they play is meeting a need.  Play with your students once in a while and learn from them. Once that is figured out, tackle the following question, “How might you design a learning experience that will meet your student’s needs?” Happy Teaching!

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