Video games in education

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Since their arrival to platforms in the 1970s, video games have risen to be one of the biggest consumer markets on the globe. Today it is very rare to enter someone's home without finding at least a computer with some version of a game installed onto it. Video games have been in the midst of controversy since their release for having things such as excessive violence or for having seemingly no value to the daily lives of an individual, and granted that there are almost certainly some games like that, but with so many people purchasing them year in and year out one might reason that an education could be gained, even in the smallest sense, from these electronic wonders. The greatest games are the ones that are bought and learned. Gamers will take the time to develop knowledge about all aspects of the game, and thus the game will be played for a long time with great attention to it. This is the main goal of the developers, to create a game that will capture the attention of the player in such a way that he or she will want to keep playing. Video games can also be used as an alternative to a classroom setting, while still maintaining levels of difficulty that foster learning in a gamer.

In today's modern time the census indicates that in 2012, 190 million American households will own a next generation video game console. With the amount of home consoles on the rise, it is easy to distinguish that video games and video game culture is becoming a social norm for the U.S. and the world as well. With the average age of a gamer dropping every year, more and more young people are becoming comfortable in the gaming community. Today, avid gamers will wait anxiously in line outside stores for the next big game like their parents did for concert tickets or willingly pay online fees every month much like their parents pay for their electric bill.[1] The culture is wrapping itself around the young people in the world, and video games could be a great way to bring a new form of learning into the classroom. When someone plays a video game, they are challenged mentally with a problem. Through playing they will discover many different ways to solve problems they will come across. In good games, they will often find that they will require these skills later on in the game as well, and thus be required to maintain and hone their skills for later on. Video games also often provide instant rewards for succeeding in solving a problem. This is in contrast to the classroom where students wait for graded tests and are only rewarded occasionally with report cards to report their progress. Video games can instantly tell a student of failure or success and often this can be used to develop skills along the way.

Compared to a classroom model[edit]

In a contemporary classroom model it is typical for the teacher to stand in front of the class and lecture to the students. Since some students will learn at different levels, it is possible that some students will be held back or some students will be left behind because of the pace of the class. In many good video games there is difficulty settings. This allows the player to set a different level of mastery for their individual needs. After the player has achieved mastery over the game, they can up the difficulty setting and be further challenged. Also while the teacher is engaging the class he or she is not specifically engaging any particular student. It can be easy for students to get lost in their thoughts and disconnect from what is going on in class. Video games tend to be more engaging. Rather than getting a bunch of information over an extended class period, games provide small bits of information at relevant stages. It is true that many things students learn in their classroom will be relevant, but not necessarily at that particular moment. Video games will hold the attention of the player and provide what information is needed for that junction within the game. Many games also involve varying levels of problem solving, requiring an active mind to help achieve completion of a goal. Not all games do this well, but the good games will provide game play that is do-able, but challenging enough that the student must work at its completion. Because games follow this model, it creates a small degree of frustration in the player that does not deter them from wanting top play, but instead gives them more motivation to continue on. To get the full benefit from this many games allow players to adjust difficulty levels and allow them to achieve varying levels of mastery over the game.[2]

Games like the God of War series show us a good example of how this works. In the beginning of the game you will start off will all of your powers and upgrades, and this will help you develop basic skills. After a short period of time all of these helpful characteristics of your avatar are taken away. From here the gamer will play through the game and periodically be rewarded with new equipment or powers, either from experience of playing well or from reaching a certain point in the game. These new items can be used to achieve success later in the game. If the gamer wanted to master the game, he or she would need to learn to utilize all of the upgrades that they are given. By giving the gamer upgrades periodically after a string of successes, the game holds the attention of the gamer to keep playing. Also by throwing equipment at the gamer at certain intervals, they can learn to use each piece individually and then later be stronger in using it.

Educational setting[edit]

It is important to emphasize how video games interact with the learning process of adolescents and children. As early as 1978 research was started relating video games to the motivational effects involved in learning as well as their cognitive potential. In the 1980s, with spread of video games, research grew and became more diversified. Most finding were consistent with their claims, stating that the visual and motor coordination of game players was better than that of non-players. Initial research also indicated the importance of electronic games for children who proved to have difficulty learning basic subjects and skills.[3] Authors have proved that video games helped students to identify their deficiencies and attempt to correct them. The adaptability of video games and the control that players have over them, motivate and stimulate learning, and in cases where students have difficulty concentrating can be highly useful. The instant feedback given by video games help arouse curiosity and in turn allow for greater chances of learning.

Video games can be highly useful in education in the sense that they create a simulation effect while not having any apparent danger involved. For instance, when the Air Force trains their pilots to fly a multi-million dollar plane, obviously they are not going to just send them up straight away. The Air Force uses piloting simulations in order to prepare their pilots for the real thing. These simulations are meant to prepare the training pilot for the real world while at the same time preventing any damage or loss of life in the process. A pilot could crash in the simulation, learn from their mistake and then reset and try again. This process leads to distinct levels of mastery over the simulation and in turn the plane they will also be flying in the future. The Military also utilizes games such as the Call of Duty and Socom franchises in their training. Games like these immerse the gamer into the realm of the game. Using tactical skills the players will attempt in the game to achieve whatever objective is set out for them. This allows for the military to show their soldiers how to engage certain situations with none of the risk of getting hurt in the line of battle.[4]

Games of all types have been shown to increase a different array of skills for players. Attempts have been made to show that arcade style action and platforming games can be used to develop motor co-ordination, manual skills, and reflexes. Games have also been researched to find a connection with some kinds of games and stress relief. Next many authors have given claim to the educational potentials of games like The Sims, for its social simulation or games like the Civilization series for its historical and strategy elements. Many conclude as a whole that video games promote intellectual development, and suggest that players can develop knowledge strategies, practice problem solving, and can greater develop spatial skills.[5]

Using video games in the classroom[edit]

Possible benefits[edit]

Though they can be used outside a classroom setting, teachers have the capability to use video games. There is substantial evidence which shows that for young children, educational video games promote student engagement and enhance the learning process while making it fun.[6]

Video games are inherently incentive-based systems with the player being rewarded for solving a problem or completing the mission given certain criteria.[6] Every single game has some form of rewards system, whether it is based on points, achievements, character/weapon advancement, unlocking new material, or simply moving to the next level. Games can constantly and automatically assess the learner's ability at every given moment, due to the software-based nature of the game; this is something that modular education structures lack in since they tend to be delivered in large chunks and present a relatively limited picture of student progress.[6] Video games teach a systematic way of thinking as well as an understanding for how different variables affect each other.[6] Video games also enhance reaction-based skills by providing the element of the unknown, which makes the player react naturally.

Games such as Minecraft and Portal provide perfect platforms for teachers to experiment with their educational abilities. While Minecraft is more of a free-for-all game in which the user can create virtually anything, Portal follows a more physics-based game style. The player uses the laws of physics, such as gravity and inertia, to advance through the game's series of test chambers. Critical thinking and problem solving are inherent in the game's design. Both Minecraft and Portal are very easily adaptable to different learning environments. Minecraft tends to be used more with children while Portal can be utilized by Physics teachers in high school. classrooms. It can be difficult to locate a game that is educational as well as fun. And many teachers have no knowledge about how to teach with games.

Possible drawbacks[edit]

  • Psychological issues: Gaming can promote student addiction as well as physical problems. Students may also lose their desire to learn in the traditional setting. It can also remove teacher control and result in "excessive competition."
  • Students' lack of readiness: Students have varying levels of skill and computer literacy, which may be affected by their socioeconomic status. It takes time to teach them the rules of games, and games are harder for them to understand than traditional audiovisuals.
  • Lack of supporting materials: Teachers don't have access to supporting text or work for students to do alongside games, and they have no external authorities to tell them which games are educational and which aren't.
  • Fixed class schedules: Teachers have time constraints and their school may not allow them to use games.
  • Limited budgets: Computer equipment, software, and fast Internet connections are expensive and difficult for teachers to obtain.

All of the above were beliefs that teachers had about teaching with games that stopped them from doing so more.

Some teachers were more concerned about some problems than others. Male teachers were less concerned about limited budgets, fixed class hours, and the lack of supporting materials than were female teachers. Inexperienced teachers were more worried about fixed class schedules and the lack of supporting materials than were experienced teachers.

Learning from video games outside the classroom[edit]

There is much we can learn from video games outside the classroom as well. The "net generation" is intrinsically motivated by games and commercial video games have a potentially important role to assist learning a range of crucial transferable skills.[6] These games, referred to as commercial off the shelf (COTS) games are in a position to teach a mass audience of gamers certain techniques and skills.

One example of this would be in first-person shooter games such as the Call of Duty franchise. While by nature these games are violent and have been subject to massive negative reception by parents, it is still possible to learn key skills from the game. Games such as these stimulate the player at the cognitive level as they move through the level, mission, or game as a whole.[6] They also teach strategy, as players need to come up with ways to penetrate enemy lines, stealthily avoid the enemy, minimize casualties, etc. The Multi-player aspect of these games proves to be the ultimate example of how well players utilize these skills. These games also allow players to enhance their peripheral vision because they need to watch for movement on the screen and make quick decisions whether to shoot or not, depending on if it is an enemy player or not.

Other games such as the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises provide insight to the basic nature of education in video games. In order to succeed, you must fail multiple times - this is the only way to learn.[6] These games also provide real-time feedback on how well you are doing while playing the game, something that educational systems lack in.[6] The main advantage with video games is that there is nothing to lose from failing, unlike with real-life where failing usually means a bad grade or worse.[6]

There are other games, like Deus Ex: Human Revolution that also provide a model for decision-making skills. The player is forced to think ahead and contemplate how their actions will affect the future of the game and, more importantly, how they are able to play the game. An ability upgrade enhances the character's skills and therefore makes it a better option to use that enhanced skill in the future. Also, some games with built-in mini-maps inherently teach people how to read a map. Beyond the North, South, East, and West compass directions, players are taught how to get from point A to point B as fast as possible and how to avoid obstacles like blockages, bodies of water, and enemies.


While video games are a constantly growing part of culture, many people still criticize them for being violent and addictive. The players' attitudes based on their own experience as users, and how games tend to be an event planned into their everyday lives, contrast with the views of politicians, psychologists, educators and other critics.[citation needed] While the number of people who accept video games is growing,the majority still express deep concern, or just outright reject them. This is usually created from their fear of videos causing a growth in violence within the culture. When serious incidents revolving around video game enthusiasts occur, public opinion leaders are quick to pass judgement and disparages against all video games.[citation needed] Interestingly however, during debates within the United States Senate, many experts have testified that there is a lack of scientific evidence proving the direct links between video games and the negative effects attributed to them.[5]

There is the danger of sacrificing challenge in order to keep the player entertained. Too often, video games can fall into a formulaic level-based structure that is more monotonous than challenging. Also, sometimes people are more concerned with how things look visually than how engaging the content of the game is. No matter how realistic the blood looks, there is still a purpose behind every game. Video games for an older audience tend to have less obvious educational aspects to it, especially when compared to children's video games. This is simply because designing educational games for older individuals need more thought, and because adults often look to video games as diversions from everyday work and responsibilities in the short free time they have. It is indeed hard to try and find some educational aspect to many games, but it can be rewarding once it is found. However, games like Minecraft and Portal do provide obvious educational elements, and they are for an older audience.

The main problem with the criticism of video games is the age of the culture around them. Video games have the major following of the young people in the world, which includes everyone of the age 35 and below. As such the majority of public opinion leaders have never played video games. This lack of personal experience, along with the mistrust officials generally treat the entertainment industry with, have most likely contributed to the social discourse regarding all games and gamers. But like all new media, they will always be defined by their users, no matter how diverse it might appear to be.[5]

According to Cathy Davidson (2011), video games are seen as a weapon of destruction, but they can also be viewed as an "important tool for teaching complex principles." [p146] For years we have all believed that video games are bad for children. However, those accusations can be attributed to the historical events that have occurred in the US over the years. The shooting at Columbine painted a negative image in the minds of adults. Two teens were dressed like "assassins in violent video games," and subconsciously linked with everything a video game represents. Now video games became the reasons why children were bullying other children, dropping out of school, or stealing from other peoples' homes. This shift in perspective caused researchers to adjust their experiment tactics, and consider different aspects of gaming. Today, studies are more focused on the "negative moral, social, psychological, and even physiological effects of video games." [p148][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Irvine, M. (2004, December 6). The life and times of an online gamer. Retrieved from
  2. ^ Gee, James Paul (October 2003). "What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy". Acm Computer In Entertainment 1 (1): 1–4. 
  3. ^ Greenfield, P.M. 1985. El niño y los medios de comunicatión. Morata, Madrid.
  4. ^ 1. K.D. Squire, “Video games in education,” Int. J. Intell. Games & Simulation 2, no. 1 (2003): 49–62.
  5. ^ a b c 1. M. De Aguilera and A. Mendiz, “Video games and education:(Education in the Face of a ‘Parallel School’),” Computers in Entertainment (CIE) 1, no. 1 (2003): 1.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Nick Tannahill, Patrick Tissington, Carl Senior, "Video Games and Higher Education: What Can 'Call of Duty' Teach our Students?", 2012
  7. ^ Davidson, Cathy N. Now You See It. New York, NY: Penguin Group USA Inc. pp. 144–148. ISBN 978-0-670-02282-3.