In this paper we analyze how commercial video games become an educational tool to develop skills related to new forms of literacy (Jenkins, 2009). New digital technologies can be thought of as instruments that require from the user some understanding of their languages, a “visual literacy” (Gee, 2004) to comprehend the messages conveyed in all its complexity. It refers to different communication systems that include language, images, symbols, graphs, diagrams, artefacts, etc. In this framework, video games involve the students in this multimodal world, since they combine different languages.

Our data comes from an ethnographic study (Atkinson et al., 2001; Lacasa, 2006; Pink, 2004) conducted in a Secondary School in Coslada (Madrid). We developed a workshop on Spanish Language subject, while working with The Sims 3 video game. In this research we show how some simulation video games, specifically The Sims 3, can be used as learning resources that help students to develop digital skills while they learn curricular contents in the area of language.

We worked from a participatory action research perspective (Kemmis & McTaggart, 2005) assuming a reflexive-dialectical view of subjective-objective relations and connections. In this context we combine analytical and narrative ways of thinking to approach human practice (Bruner, 2002). Moreover, we understand our participatory action research as a process of mutual inquiry wherein researchers and teachers collaborate to “create circumstances in which people can search together collaboratively for more comprehensible, true, authentic and morally right and appropriate ways of understanding and acting in the world” (Kemmis, 2005:601). In this project, we collaborated with teachers in the process of sharing goals and creating innovative educational activities situated in the classroom context. It helped teachers to analyze their own practices in order to improve their teaching skills.

Our work is based in the belief that schools need to develop educational uses for many of the instruments that have not been specifically designed for this purpose, but are meaningful in children’s everyday life, as video games. The educational potential of simulation games become a subject for discussion and research (de Freitas & Oliver, 2006; Mitchell & Savill-Smith 2004) that encouraged us to developed this study. From this particular study our findings revealed that during the workshop students developed new literacies (Jenkins, 2009) working with different media (Manovich, 2001).
As part of this literacy process students develop digital skills related to play, simulation, appropiation, cognitive distribution and collective intelligence (Jenkins, 2009). These ideas shown that commercial video games could be a powerful tool to work at school curricular contents and also thinking skills from an innovative way.