Third Places are informal spaces in communities other than home or work/school where people meet. In this presentation for GAME Manitoba 2019, I share how I've seen these emerge in game spaces with my students.
Director of Digital Learning, Media, Virtual Learning, & AIG
Surry County Schools
All of my resources are here! Feel free to steal and use! (If you’re feeling nice, please give attribution!)
I am a geek.
If the previous slides didn’t clue you in, I’m a geek. I wear it like a badge of honor. There are a few things I believe about geeks...
...ﬁrst off, we’re different from nerds, dweebs, and dorks. Geeks are individuals who are simply passionate about something.
Now, being the geek that I am, I often found it challenging to ﬁt in among my colleagues when I ﬁrst began my teaching career.
We live in a really cool and interesting world today!
Esports will be a $1.5 billion industry in 2020.
The board game industry is expected to top
$12 billion by 2023!
16-Year-Olds are winning $3M prizes in
Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf won $3M in the solos competition of the 2019 Fortnite World Cup. That’s more than Tiger Wood’s earnings in this year’s Master’s.
Sorry, my inner middle school geek had to throw this one in. …feeling empowered these days.
A place where people congregate other
than home or work.
The Third Place
Urban sociologist, Ray Oldenburg, is an advocate for informal public gathering spaces. He distinguishes these “third places” from other important places
in our lives, home (ﬁrst place) and work (second place).
In his writings, he argues for the importance of these third spaces for healthy communities and suggests they ﬁll a critical role in democratic societies.
Home is the ﬁrst place. Work (especially in the Industrial Age) was the second place, what becomes the third place?
For our students, I’d suggest that school is the second place, and games and game spaces, both face-to-face and virtual, can be powerful third places.
However, do our kids have access to a third place? Is it something that we as educators can create with them? YES!!! Let’s talk about 8 characteristics of
Third Places and I’ll share with you how I’ve seen these emerge in my experiences gaming with my students.
Let’s talk for a moment about 8 characteristics the deﬁne Third Places and as we do, I’ll share how I’ve seen these emerge in my experiences gaming with
#1 - Neutral
Third places are neutral territory. Sure, we bing our fandoms and some civil trash talk with us, but no one enters truly hostile territory in a Third Place.
It’s a low-stakes environment
This is a good time to talk about failure and how failure works in games vs. schools. Games embrace failure. I fail in games all the time. I expect it. I
learn from it. If I want to take my poorly equipped level 2 ﬁghter against a powerful dragon I can. The system gives me feedback, and the feedback of the
best systems channel me toward my goal. Is the same true in the classroom?
“One of the counter
intuitive things I
needed to learn as a
designer was that
failures more than
success. As long as
it’s diverse, they like
to explore the failure
space of a game.”
-Will Wright, Game
Will Wright, designer of popular games like SimCity, Spore, and The SIMS, made this comment. Do we provide our learners to opportunities to fail safely?
Can they learn from their failures? This pattern of play/testing, failing, and re-trying is very similar to what we teach when teaching the scientiﬁc method.
Do you fail in front of your students?
Failure is different in the classroom...
Too often, failure has punitive consequences in the classroom. Consider this... A 68% in my classroom SHOULD mean that the learner has mastered 68% of
the course concepts. They only have 32% to go! Well over half-way there! However, that’s not how we do it. What do we tell them? “You’ve failed the
course.” This is usually followed by the learner repeating the same course, with the same material, and often with the same teacher. Is threatening
students with this sort of system the best way to do it? Which do we value more, learning or grades?
First Attempt In
What if we encouraged a mindset that embraced failure… and learning as an iterative rather than a punitive process?
#2 - Leveler
A third place is a leveling place. Create a space where you and the students enter on a level playing ﬁeld.
This is a good opportunity to give one of many examples of where game spaces served as a powerful leveler between me and my students. Thus, begins
my journey. Though I’d been a gamer since my parents bought our ﬁrst Atari 2600, there was an online world, I’d not experienced until a group of my
students approached me, “Hey Mr. G-… Since you like fantasy literature and games so much, why don’t you play this game with us…”
My journey gaming with students begins here. During my second year of teaching, students approached me after school. Hey “Mr. G-,” you like games
and you like fantasy literature. Why don’t you play this new game, Everquest, with us? It was at that moment my life ended. Or, began?
I began my MMO journey as a druid wood elf and in the evenings, this growing group of students and I would ﬁght orcs in Crushbone or farm Sarnaks in
Kunark. The real world and the game world really blended for us. And, if you played EQ you know… There’s a lot of down time. While running across the
Plains of Karana or staring at a spell book, I’d quiz them about the material we’d covered in science class that day. And, of course, the game-related
conversations would happen in my classroom between classes.
Here we are in a group photo in World of Warcraft… But more on that later. On a level playing ﬁeld, my students saw me as a partner in learning, someone who could
help them succeed in science class, and I in-turn, saw their experience and knowledge as something that could help me advance in the game space. We are all learners.
Many games are inherently social. Communication is essential. We live in a world where so many bemoan screen-time and the lack of socialization among young
people. This is often the subject of click-bait Facebook articles, designed more to stir people up than to truly inform them with facts. While I do believe we should seek a
balance in activities, I don’t think screen-time is inherently evil. I think it should be purposeful. No, this isn’t easy, and parents and teachers have a real challenge on their
hands in this new reality.
The PCS Minecraft Community Server
So, is there socialization? You bet there is! Game spaces have incredibly interesting socialization going on. Sure, there are toxic spaces. All the more
reason for adults to join our students in these spaces! Partnering with our students, we can create meaningful boundaries for dialogue in safe game
spaces. In the Fall of 2013, we took our district Minecraft program in a new direction, launching one of our district servers as a 24/7 community server.
The things I’ve observed have been amazing...
“I enjoy playing with other
people. It is a great way for
friends to be able to play, learn,
and communicate without the
complications. Minecraft is
great way to do activities that
are and aren't possible in real
This quote from a middle schooler who was an active leader in our district-wide Minecraft Community sums it up.
Looking for an analog game to spur some socialization? My students love these games!
A third place is accessible and accommodating. It’s open to anyone and everyone is welcomed. There should be no- to low-barriers to entry. How do you encourage
newcomers? Is the culture inviting? Again, guiding students in this and letting them drive the organization pays oﬀ!
These students are from my Game Club at Surry Early College
Most Fridays I have the opportunity to set aside the meeting-, report-, and plan-ﬁlled world of my administrative duties and I drive across town to hang out with these
students. They range in age from 14 to 18, come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences.
Here we spend a couple of hours each Friday playing games. We play tabletop games. We play video games and host esports competitions. We play Dungeons and
Dragons and so much more. I have a team of six oﬃcers, selected by their peers who drive most of the activity. Do I inﬂuence them? You bet I do, because it’s MY
#5 - The
A Third Place has its “Regulars”. The Regulars create the climate and the culture of the space.
The Early College is an accelerated partnership with our local community college designed to graduate students with both a high school diploma and a 2 year college
Associate’s Degree. There are no athletic teams and extracurricular activities are primarily student led initiatives with a staﬀ sponsor.
Because of the nature of their busy schedules, some of these students don’t see each other during the school week. However, when they come to Game Club, people
know their name. They know each other.
#6 - Low Profile
Game spaces are typically pretty low-proﬁle. They’re not snobby. They’re not country clubs. The only elitism you bring is your fandom. And that’s limited to playful
Third places are never snobby, but rather have a wholesome, home-like feel to them. In our space, the work of long-time Minecraft architects can be
found alongside that of novices. Our players create the space that is custom-tailored for them.
#7 - A Playful
Third Places are characterized by a playful mood.
Play Is Powerful
Remember the sandbox? What are the rules? How did you learn them? What are the limitations on what you create? Is this child learning? You bet!
Where are his notes, worksheets, homework... teacher?
“It is paradoxical that many educators
and parents still differentiate between
a time for learning and a time for play
without seeing the vital connection
Leo F. Buscaglia, USC
Do we give our learners spaces to play with concepts? Is there room for structured play? Unstructured? How can we take our standardized curricula and
incorporate elements of play into them?
Play WITH them.
Play with your students in these spaces. It’s good for them to see this side of you and it’s GOOD FOR YOU!
#8 - A Home
I don’t know about your students, but I have had many for which my classroom and our game club is more of a home to them than the place they sleep at night.
Many games are inherently social. Communication is essential.
Meet the Harbingers of Light Guild. This is the player guild that I and my students formed and still persists to this day.
Build Stories Together
We forged strong relationships.
Put on your “Teacher Glasses”
You see, I have this annoying habit of seeing my gaming experiences through my teacher glasses. I began to dream of the possibility of actually using
these gaming environments and these rich experiences in the classroom. And, frankly, the gamer in me thought it’d be fun to have a massive LAN party in
the school’s computer lab.
And, as a teacher, I always had opportunities to help my student-players grow into more responsible digital citizens.
William “Pookha” Macon
Being a partner with your students in a game-driven Third Place allows you to see aspects of your students you may miss otherwise. Some kids shine in these spaces.
Here’s an example…
Quiet, capable biology
student by day…
Leader of international force
of 40+ dungeon raiders by
Do we provide our students
opportunities to develop
and showcase these
Will YOU create a game
space for your students?