Education Matters: Comic-Con’s education surplus


Besides the specific education topics discussed in the two previous columns, Comic-Con also offered other sessions of educational value.

In the “Let’s Learn Through Live Action Role Playing” panel, a brief game was played with audience members to demonstrate how LARP works.

People were asked to find one another in their “grouping” through a particular action, and solve a puzzle.

Moderator and The Game Academy board of directors vice president Aaron Vanek said the sample game “forced people to watch another person’s body language” to identify others in their group, and it “forced players to make a connection.”

Panelist Emily Nguyen-Hoai said this was a way to open up conversations in a less awkward way than typical icebreakers used in many social and professional environments.

Education using LARP is a primary mission of The Game Academy.

Vanek said LARP improves social and emotional skills and is a “powerful tool for learning.”

LARP examples, from the TGA website, include four-day units for content-focused learning on the American Industrial Revolution and the American Civil War, geared for the eighth-grade social studies classroom.

A TGA-designed LARP for a fifth- and sixth-grade science class asked students riding in a spaceship to use science to escape danger.

Vanek said students who use science in a personal way will remember better than simply memorizing formulas.

LARPs, he said, are peer-to-peer learning rather than teacher-to-student.

In traditional team projects at school, one person always seems to carry the full load, Nguyen-Hoai said, “but in LARP, you have to collaborate.”

When taking on a character role, participants “shift into a different mindset when in game space,” she said.

Another panelist named two main benefits to LARP:

Immersion in the game aligns with project-based learning, which makes lessons more easily recalled than rote memorization.

When players step outside of themselves, they are more willing to try new things and have permission to fail.

“You don’t fail,” Vanek said, when you wear the mask of a character. “It’s just your character that failed, and that’s easier to accept.”

It’s important for students to learn how to fail and pick themselves up again, he said. Children don’t learn if they never fail.

Play-based education

The Game Academy is a nonprofit “committed to the social, emotional and academic success of learners of all ages through the use of tabletop role-playing games and live-action role play,” according to its website [].

“In essence, The Game Academy endeavors to return play-based education to middle and high school students.”

Educational units are designed to be aligned with California’s Common Core state standards and can be used for children ages eight to 18 in traditional, charter and home school environments.

Subjects including history, science, math, drama and English can be taught through games in a way that TGA says is “engaging and fun.”

LARPs can also address life skills and such sensitive topics as teasing and bullying, by helping targeted children with coping skills and increasing understanding in the tormenter.

“Students take learning into their own hands, and are empowered through role play to value negotiation, compassion and empathy,” the TGA website explains.

TGA also offers professional development for teachers to make and use their own LARPs in the classroom.

Darkness and magic

Wretched, fearful societies are beloved by many readers. But why do authors write about such bleak worlds?

In the “Dystopia and Darkness” panel, one panelist said, “In these worlds I am God. I have complete control. In the real world, I feel powerless.”

But even in the darkest of fantasy worlds, there’s always a ray of hope, said another.

Another panel, “Rules for Writing Magic,” sounded interesting but turned out not to be. The program description promised to explain guidelines for writing magic and science fiction. But the panelists mainly discussed their own works, with little explanation on creating parameters for their magical worlds.

In the “Magic in Young Adult Comics” panel, an editor provided a partial answer when said she looks for “magic that works seamlessly in the world you’ve created.”

Young adult fiction was showcased in the “Real World Reflected in Fantasy” panel, with three first-time authors speaking about their acclaimed books.

San Diegan Tomi Adeyemi (author of Children of Blood and Bone), Margaret Owen (author of The Merciful Crow), and Hafsah Faizal (author of We Hunt the Flame) discussed how they approached writing their first young adult novels.

Author Marie Lu, known for the Legend trilogy, is of Asian descent but said she made a conscious decision not to write about anyone Asian. Otherwise, she said, “she’d always be known as an Asian writer” rather than simply a writer.

Heroes are human

Voice actors on the panel “Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice in the World of Comics” stressed that their heroes all have flaws.

“Every hero has a mortal wound,” said Jason Lewis, adding that everyone carries something that’s painful.

“Our heroes are human too,” said Kellen Goff, who described himself as high-functioning autistic. He said it’s important for comics to show flaws and weaknesses.

About social justice, moderator Heather Newman said, “Every white person has privilege. Even if we didn’t create it, we benefit from it. So we have to fight to dismantle it.”

James Mathis III said there aren’t enough black heroes in movies and television. “We’re at the mercy of those who make the decisions,” he said, emphasizing the need for more diversity in popular culture.

“If we’re all crying out in frustration about inclusion, who’s in charge?” Mathis said.

Newman agreed, saying the industry needs more representation in writing, directing, producing and other positions of power.

Magic carpet ride

Many panels and presentations located at the San Diego Central Library were open to the public.

Aimed at educators and librarians, the programs were designed, according to Comic-Con, for attendees “to learn ways to incorporate comics and graphic novels” in their teaching and offerings to students.

“Comic-Con seeks to engage the community and promote comics as a medium for learning and as a literary art form,” stated the events program.

On the exhibit floor a booth showcased magical displays of chariots for wheelchair-bound children. Its site is, and its mission is to “build epic costumes for kiddos in wheelchairs – at no cost to families.”

Check out the photos on the site that show the work this nonprofit is doing for disabled children.

The booth where fans could get autographs from comic strip writers included Greg Evans, creator of Luann, one of my favorites.

Each year at Comic-Con I pepper the poor man with questions about Toni and Brad, Luann, Bernice, Delta, Dez, Tiffany, Gunther and all the other terrific characters he’s created in Luann world.

Evans, a local treasure, lives in San Marcos and now writes the strip with his daughter.

A memorable year

Panels that were full unless you lined up two hours ahead (not even counting Hall H or Ballroom 20) were too many to count.

Sadly, the SpongeBob SquarePants panel, which first appeared on TV 20 years ago, was over-stuffed. Who wouldn’t want to see the voice actors for SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, Sandy, Plankton and Mr. Krabs?

The Sesame Street and Scooby Doo shows turned 50 this year and were celebrated at packed panels.

Although I couldn’t get in, I was pleased that these classics were so popular. Nothing dark and dystopian there.

The year 1969 was notable for other turning points in our culture.

It was 50 years ago that the world witnessed the Stonewall riots, the Manson murders, the moon landing and Woodstock. Locally, San Diego saw the opening of the Coronado bridge.

Music exploded that year with the release of several revolutionary albums – David Bowie’s Space Oddity, the Who’s Tommy, the Beatles’ Abbey Road, and Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones.

From its modest beginnings in 1969, Comic-Con itself celebrated its 50-year anniversary this year.

— Opinion columnist and Sr. Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at