Video Games and Social Control

From FUTURESTATES collection, lesson plan 9 of 13

Audience: This lesson is designed for high school students of all ability levels.

Duration: This unit will take 3-4 days, depending on the class.

Summary of the Lesson: In this lesson, students will discuss the theme of the film Play. They will gather data about their own use of technology, discuss it, and draw conclusions. Do they agree with the writers of technological cautionary tales, or do they dismiss the fears as groundless? Students will create and present a digital response.

National Educational Standards: These Common Core Standards are addressed in this lesson: For grades 9-12: Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Curricula Writer: Carla Beard teaches high school English in Indiana. She often presents at NCTE and has served as Teacher in Residence for the Indiana Department of Education, where she helped teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. She maintains Web English Teacher, a web-based resource for English Language Arts teachers.


Download activity handouts and lesson plan materials at

Teacher Preparation: The teacher will want to preview Play to make sure it meets community standards. In addition, it will be helpful to read the synopsis.

Have available both a copy of the trailer for Play and the complete film. The trailer is about 80 seconds, and the film is about 18 minutes (not counting credits).

Because Play does not use a traditional plot arc (with a conflict, a climax, and a resolution), students may have difficulty analyzing the film at first. It may be necessary to show the film more than once. It may also be helpful to tell students where to find the film online, so they can watch it again outside of class if they want to.

Objective: Students will analyze the film and determine its theme.

Lesson Structure

Beginning (5-10 minutes)
Begin class with an assignment: challenge students to monitor how they interact with technology for 24 hours, starting now. They are to keep track of how much time they spend online at social networking sites, following a sports team or fantasy team, or watching movies, TV shows, or YouTube films. They are to keep track of how many text messages they send/receive. They should keep track of how much time they spend playing digital games, even cell phone games. The handout “Play: Interaction with Technology” (in the supplemental materials) may be useful for this task.

Clarify that you are not asking for any secret details about students’ lives; you just want their best estimate of time spent interacting with technology. The data will be gathered anonymously and discussed during the next class.

Review the concept of a literary theme. Begin by showing students the trailer to Play (80 seconds). Discuss the following questions:

  • What is your initial response to this montage of images? Which images especially stand out?
  • The trailer makes limited use of language: there are some menus near the heads of the characters, we hear the spoken words “Something’s wrong,” and we see the words “Game Over” and “Exit.” What do these words add to your expectations about this film?
  • What theme do you expect from this film based on the trailer?

Middle (60-75 minutes)
Let students know in advance that Play does not have a traditional plot. They will need to pay attention to the details to understand the story.

Distribute the Viewing Guide and show the film. (If students have difficulty watching Play and taking notes at the same time, consider showing it twice. Encourage students to watch the film and not take notes the first time. They can take notes as they watch it a second time.)

Divide the class into small groups to discuss the questions on the Viewing Guide. Have each group appoint someone to make sure they discuss all the questions, someone to take notes, and someone to report to the whole class. Remind students that the purpose of the exercise is to focus on how the director shaped the film to explore a theme. Allow time for small-group discussion before calling the class together to compile and discuss responses.


Teacher Preparation: Determine in advance how best to compile the data your students will bring to class today. The goal is to produce and share two graphs: one for the number of texts the students sent and received during the past day, and one for the amount of time they spent using technology to accomplish other tasks. The ideal option is to select a student who can compile the information using a spreadsheet and then generate and project the graphs.

If you have more than one class working on this lesson, it might be an interesting exercise to keep one set of data for each class and a second set that combines all the classes.

Objective: Students will analyze data and draw conclusions about their own interaction with technology.

Lesson Structure

Beginning (5-10 minutes)
Divide students into small groups to compile subtotals of their data. When they have handed in group totals to a central person who will compile the spreadsheet, they should discuss their observations about their use of technology. They can use the questions at the bottom of the data handout as a springboard for discussion.

Middle (60-75 minutes)
When all the data has been compiled, project a graph and discuss the following questions with the class:

  • What digital activity takes up the most time?
  • Do any of the blocks of time seem excessive?
  • Do the numbers of texts sent or received seem excessive?
  • If your parents saw this graph, how might they respond?
  • Think for a moment about the theme of Play. If the filmmaker saw your graph, how might he respond? Would you agree with him? Why or why not?
  • If young children spent as much time engaged with technology as the characters in the film, would it be healthy or unhealthy? Explain.

What conclusions can the class draw about their own use of technology? Is the amount of time involved healthy or unhealthy? Do they anticipate that their interactions with technology will increase or decrease as they enter the work world?

Close by connecting today’s discussion with the theme of Play. The film suggests that people may become too dependent on interacting with technology. Based on their own research, are students more in agreement or more in disagreement with that idea?


Teacher Preparation:

Section 1. Determine in advance what online tools will best enable your students to produce a digital response to their research. This response might take the form of a cautionary tale for today, a warning for young children, or a report on “internet addiction” or the overuse of technology.

  • If your students are to produce a narrative, visit the site and become familiar with how it works before expecting students to use it in the final project. If Animoto is not available at your school, consider or as alternatives. A narrative of sorts can be cobbled together using PowerPoint, if necessary.
  • will enable students to produce online posters with a punch.
  • For a more extensive project, students might wish to share information via a wiki. and might prove useful. If students prefer to generate a website, might be a good choice. Regardless of the tool students will use, the teacher will want to visit the site and try it first.

Section 2. Determine in advance what rubric you will use to assess student work. These two sites may prove useful:

Distribute a copy of the rubric to students in advance.

Section 3. Schedule time in the computer lab.

Objective: Students will synthesize the theme from Play with the results of their research, analysis, and discussion to create a narrative response. This response might take the form of a cautionary tale for today; a warning for young children; or information about “internet addiction,” the overuse of technology, or some other topic that emerged during discussion.

Lesson Structure

Beginning, Middle, and End (1-2 days)
Students will probably need a full class period to produce a narrative, poster, or website that demonstrates a theme related to the wise use of technology. After production work is complete, encourage students to share their projects and to discuss why they selected certain images or information to convey a theme. Does the class feel that the images and/or information convey the theme well? How might the project have been improved?

The Viewing Guide is intended to help students look for patterns in the film that can help them understand a theme.

The Alternate Viewing Guide can serve as scaffolding for students who have difficulty following the events in the film. It focuses on character rather than plot or theme, so it may help students make sense of what they’re watching.

Some students have difficulty interpreting images. The Analyze a Photograph activity can help develop that skill.

  • Film module:
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