Breaking the pattern of in-class student gaming


Graphic by Alex Garibashvily

As teachers present carefully prepared lessons, many students find themselves enthralled with the colorful blocks of “Tetris,” cautious clearing of “Minesweeper” tiles, soothing shuffle of solitaire cards and countless other online games. These games, which some consider a background activity to class, often become the forefront of students’ focus.

According to Junior Finn Casey, a self-proclaimed “Tetris” addict, he uses the game as a fidget during class, but it often becomes a distraction.

“It’s kind of relaxing because, at least in the earlier levels … I can do it without thinking too much,” said Casey. “But in the later levels, usually I am very focused on the game because it’s really intense.”

Licensed clinical therapist Matt Lawson said in a phone interview that online games are designed to activate the pleasure centers of the brain by triggering the release of dopamine. Routinely playing online games can lead to addiction because of this dopamine release, similar to the effect of addictive substances. Although most players do not have an addiction to gaming, they still feel pleasure from playing these games in any capacity.

“You’re going to see that these puzzle games are something where people are like, ‘Oh, I’ve got 15 minutes to kill, I want something that’s going to give me a little dopamine,’” said Lawson. “‘Tetris’ and solitaire … are extremely simple games that give you that little rush.”

According to biology teacher Katherine Gutierrez, it is obvious when students are playing games instead of paying attention in class because they are constantly looking at their computers. 

While it may seem harmless, students playing games in class often miss valuable information, and their games can be distractions for students sitting around them, Gutierrez said.

According to Casey, one day during his freshman year he was so engaged in playing “Tetris” while walking into class that he did not notice his desk was missing from its usual spot. 

“I just sat on the floor and kept playing ‘Tetris,’” Casey said.

According to Lawson, there are certain questions teachers should ask students who are consistently distracted by games during class.

“The individual should be [asked], ‘Do you understand the policy behind games? Do you understand the consequences that go along with you playing games?’” said Lawson. “It can be approached in a way that’s respectful and also starts to identify if the student has a problem.”

The first step for students to break the habit should be mindfulness and consideration of why they play games in class, Lawson said. Students should ask themselves: Am I bored or uninterested? Am I not getting good grades? The second step is finding a source of motivation to do well in the class.

Third, students can set rules for themselves concerning online games, such as only playing in the evenings or setting screen-time restrictions, Lawson said.

According to Casey, there are times he feels he needs to stop playing “Tetris” in class.

“It’s a thing to do while listening,” said Casey. “But sometimes I fly too close to the sun and am not as engaged as I should be.”