Educational video game

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A Vtech educational video game.

An educational video game is a video game that provides learning or training value to the player. Edutainment describes an intentional merger of video games and educational software into a single product (and could therefore also comprise more serious titles sometimes described under children's learning software). In the narrower sense used here, the term describes educational software which is primarily about entertainment, but tends to educate as well and sells itself partly under the educational umbrella. Normally software of this kind is not structured towards school curricula and does not involve educational advisors.

Educational video games play a significant role in the school curriculum for teachers who seek to deliver core lessons, reading and new skills. Gamification of education allows learners to take active roles in learning and develop technological skills that are needed for their academic and professional careers. Several recent studies have shown that video games, whether violent or not can help children in the development of intellectual and emotional skills that support their academic achievement (Chang et al., 2009). These findings have made teachers all over the world recognize the numerous benefits of gaming and to include educational video game learning in their curricula.


There can be also defined strategy war games that include historical references, like the Total War franchise or the Age of Empires trilogy and an in-game encyclopaedia like Civilization. These games often integrate education without being explicitly educational. These are games which were originally developed for adults or older children and which have potential learning implications. For the most part, these games provide simulations of different kinds of human activities, allowing players to explore a variety of social, historical and economic processes.


  • City-building games such as the SimCity series and Caesar (1993–2006) invite players to explore the social, practical and economic processes involved in city management;
  • Empire-building games such as the Civilization series (1991–2013) and the Europa Universalis series (2000–2014) help players to learn about history and its political, economic and military aspects;
  • Railroad management games such as Railroad Tycoon (1990–2003) and Rails Across America (2001) illuminate the history, engineering and economics of railroad management.
  • Geography games such as PlaceSpotting (2008–2009) help players to find locations on earth according to some hints.
  • Physics games such as Quantum Moves and A Slower Speed of Light aim to impart intuition for complicated physics concepts such as quantum mechanics and special relativity.
  • Trading and commerce based games such as The Patrician challenge players to create and grow a trading empire managing acquiring, processing, transporting, and bartering resources within a limited region.

The games have been enthusiastically received in some educational circles and are mentioned in academic literature.[1]

A new category was recently started by Bot Colony (2013). It can be used to practice English dialogue by conversing with intelligent robots as part of an adventure game.[2]


Many titles were developed and released from the mid-1990s onwards, aimed primarily at the home education of young children. Later iterations of these titles often began to link educational content to school curricula such as England's National Curriculum. The design of educational games for home use has been influenced by gaming concepts – they are designed to be fun and educational.

Examples of children's learning software which have a structured pedagogical approach, usually orientated towards literacy and numeracy skills.


The early mainframe game The Sumerian Game (1964) was, while not the first resource management game, the first designed for elementary school students.[3] In 1970 Abt published a book on the topic: "Serious games: The art and science of games that simulate life.".[4] In September 1983 the Boston Phoenix reported that "edutainment" games were a new focus area for companies after end of growth of the Atari 2600 software market.[5] In 1983, the term "edutainment" was used to describe a package of software games for the Oric 1 and Spectrum Microcomputers in the UK. Dubbed "arcade edutainment" an advertisement for the package can be found in various issues of "Your Computer" magazine from 1983. The software package was available from Telford ITEC a government sponsored training program. The originator of the name was Chris Harvey who worked at ITEC at the time.

Since then, many other computer games such as Electronic Arts's Seven Cities of Gold, released in 1984, have also used edutainment as a descriptive term. Most edutainment games seek to teach players by employing a game-based learning approach. Criticism as to which video games can be considered educational has led to the creation of "serious games" whose primary focus is to teach rather than entertain.[6]

Psychologist Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen researched the educational use and potential of computer games and has written many articles on the subject. One paper dealing specifically with edutainment breaks it down into 3 generational categories to separate the cognitive methods most predominantly used to teach.[7] He is critical of the research that has been done on the educational use of computer games, citing their biases and weaknesses in method, which cause their findings to lack scientific validity.

In education[edit]

Games provide structure to problem-solving. This allows a player to "fail up", meaning that with the combination of challenging and fun and identity-building, the student will want to continue to persist on that problem until it is solved. It is a productive failure. This may take quite a few times before success is reached, but progress is obtained each time and so is knowledge on how to solve that problem. Iteration and discovery become two major aspects to learning through game playing. Many students have a "sweet spot" for gaming, which allows gaming in education to be successful in terms of grasping concepts, while this can be more difficult through the use of a book. Students may not even realize that they are learning through a game. Games need to include novelty. Unexpected occurrences and challenging choices allow the player to want to keep playing. Having a story or narrative in the game is what can really suck a player into the game. It allows for continuous feedback and challenges at the right level of difficulty, while avoiding frustration.

When developing successful learning games for the classroom, it can be a challenging task. In order for the game to show achievement in student learning, the games should hold certain qualities. The development of successful games to promote learning requires attention to opposing factors. Creativity and inventiveness is needed to help the outcome work well and run smoothly. Games should take the opposite approach of drill-and-practice principles, as this simplifies the games and limits the domains of knowledge. The three factors to keep in mind when designing strong and successful games are integration, motivation, and focus. In order for the player to progress in the game, they must master the learning goals and objectives behind the game.[8] The game should be integrated with learning goals. In the content that needs to be taught through the game, it should be made a point that in order to succeed in the game, is to know the information, which creates importance to the player. The game needs to be as motivating as possible and should pose a challenge. The primary activity of the game should be interacting and interesting to the students. Games are about decision making, where you see what the consequences are and what feedback you receive. Games teach students about rewards, but that it takes some work to receive those rewards. The actions within the game need to be relevant to life outside the game, so learning can occur. Focus can most successfully occur when one is learning by exploring, operating, or interacting.

Teachers are using games more regularly that focus on a wide variety of objectives, while exposing students to more game genres and devices. There is much more structure, which makes it a lot easier for the teacher, and the students enjoy it. Students have become so fluent with the use of online tools. Learning data can be generated from the use of online games, which allow the teacher to have insight on the knowledge the children have obtained, and what needs improvement; this can then help a teacher with their curriculum and teaching.

A student uses a Smart Board in class.

A nationwide study of 488 K–12 teachers in the United States found that over half were using digital games in the classroom weekly.[9] Most classrooms nowadays have replaced the traditional blackboard for the Smart Board, bringing technology into the classroom. As we move forward into the digital age, most schools provide lessons on computer literacy to ensure students are fluent when it comes to technology. Likewise, the use of well-designed educational video games delivers game based learning that can motivate students to participate more enthusiastically in subjects, including those that are often less popular. It is also noted that educational video games offer more interaction, immediate feedback, to both student and teacher, and more student control.[10] Educational video games that involve aspects of reality, provide students with opportunities to be involved in an interactive environment that they would not ordinarily be allowed to participate in[11] but from the safety of a classroom. 

Subject focus[edit]

  • History - while "News is the first cut of history" is often a reality,[12] the New York Times decried "a void in young people's minds about anything that happened before today's headlines or newscasts"[13] it promoted educational videos about history as "a new tool to make the past come to life."
  • Biology - to understand more about Creationism and the Scopes trial, The New York Times recommends seeing "film clips of William Jennings Bryan confronting Clarence Darrow, the defense lawyer."[13]

Special educational needs[edit]

Children of all kinds thrive during play-based learning. Children with special needs, be it physical or cognitive, often require different materials to aide their education. Many schools strive for the inclusion of special educational needs students within the classroom and now, with the help of technology, schools begin to close the gap and give children with disabilities equal opportunities to learn and communicate.[14]

There have been many video games created within the past decades that specifically target special needs children, Dreamware being one. The device uses visual, auditory, temperature, and vibration sensory integration training which have been proven to capture the child's attention, keeping them focused for longer periods, allowing the child to learn more.[15]

Other educational video games targeted towards those with special education needs include virtual reality, as it can provide knowledge building experiences. One study conducted by Professor Standen of University of Nottingham concluded that adolescent students with severe intellectual disabilities who practiced shopping in a virtual supermarket were both quicker and more precise than those who had not.[16] This showed that students could acquire important life skills through a video game and could then transfer that knowledge into the real environment, making them a valuable tool in education.

Importance to learners[edit]

Educational video games help learners in the development of reading comprehension and cognitive skills.[17] For teachers, video games with educational value act as relevant material for engaging their students. Therefore, video games can be used as an immersive learning system that provides for a combination of digital technology, rich narrative, and real world gameplay. Through games students learn to exercise resilience, critical thinking, and problem solving skills by identifying numerous solutions for problems.[18] By introducing them to educational video games, parents and teachers can make children interested in technology and technical skills from an early age.

Educational video games are important for individualized learning. Given that every learner is different, teachers are always looking for adequate resources that will provide every learner with an individualized learning plan. Video games allow students to learn new concepts at their own pace without having a constant overlook from parents and teachers (Chang et al., 2009). The experiences of the players can be tailored based on their preferences and performance. The game is automatically adjusted to present higher-level challenges after solving each problem. If they are having difficulty with a concept, then the game is tailored to present the same concept in a different manner until the student understands it. Video games balance enjoyment with an appropriate challenge level, which keeps players in an optimally engaging and challenging learning zone.

Research shows that children who play educational video games have improved visual-spatial skills. For instance, a simple game session can help learners visualize science topics in a way that helps them learn better. Children who play educational video games have sharpened visual attention skills and improved capacity to visualize 3D objects (Achtman et al. 2008). Furthermore, educational video games as they improve their aim and hand-eye coordination. The video game is a learning sector as activities that sharpen the perceptions of children as well as their responses to the world.


One of the major limitations of educational video games is that they leave little room for spontaneous play. A child may be involved and have some degree of control in a game but ultimately cannot control the direction in which the game will go, hindering the notion of self-directed play as a means for learning. It has been noted that educational video games can help students focus; however, once the game has ended many find it hard to adapt back to the slower pace of receiving information in the classroom.[19]

It is also important for students to be able to ask questions on topics they do not fully understand. A supervising teacher may be able to aid the student whereas the computer cannot provide answers to all questions posed. Using educational computer games also relies on the teacher having prior knowledge of how the game works and be somewhat computer literate.[20]

Regardless of the enthusiasm surrounding video games and learning, very few studies have come to a conclusive answer as to whether educational video games improve academic achievement and classroom performance.[21] Although individuals may develop game-specific abilities; these may not transfer into traditional academic skills required for learning.[22] Only additional research could tell whether playing educational video games improves classroom behaviour and academic skills. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Howard Witt (February 27, 2007). "Video games good teachers?". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on March 4, 2007.
  2. ^ Eugene Joseph (2012). "Bot Colony – a Video Game Featuring Intelligent Language-Based Interaction with the Characters" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 15, 2014. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ Willaert, Kate (2019-09-09). "The Sumerian Game: The Most Important Video Game You've Never Heard Of". A Critical Hit. Retrieved 2019-09-10.
  4. ^ Abt, C. C. (1970). Serious games: The art and science of games that simulate life. USA: New Yorks Viking.
  5. ^ Mitchell, Peter W. (1983-09-06). "A summer-CES report". Boston Phoenix. p. 4. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  6. ^ Djaouti, D., Alvarez, J., Jessel, J., & Rampnoux, O. (2011). Origins of Serious Games. Serious Games and Edutainment Applications.
  7. ^ Egenfeldt-Nielsen, S. "Making sweet music: The Educational Use of Computer Games" (PDF). Center for Computer Games Research.
  8. ^ Bavelier, Daphne; Green, C. Shawn; Han, Doug Hyun; Renshaw, Perry F.; Merzenich, Michael M.; Gentile, Douglas A. (2011). "Brains on video games". Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 12 (12): 763–768. doi:10.1038/nrn3135. PMC 4633025. PMID 22095065.
  9. ^ "Digital Game Use: Teachers in the Classroom | The A-Games Project". Retrieved 2016-05-15.
  10. ^ "Gaming to learn". American Psychology Association. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
  11. ^ Hamlen, Karla R. (2013-10-01). "Trends in Children's Video Game Play: Practical but Not Creative Thinking". Journal of Educational Computing Research. 49 (3): 277–291. doi:10.2190/EC.49.3.a. ISSN 0735-6331.
  12. ^ Julian Zelizer (September 8, 2010). "How much do we learn from The First Cut of History". The Nation.
  13. ^ a b Fred M. Hechinger (January 14, 1986). "About education: video cassettes bring history to life". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Brodin, Jane (2010-03-01). "Can ICT give children with disabilities equal opportunities in school?". Improving Schools. 13 (1): 99–112. doi:10.1177/1365480209353483. ISSN 1365-4802.
  15. ^ Lee, Jin-Hee; Choi, Eikyu; Song, Minseok; Shin, Byeong-Seok (2012-04-27). "Dreamware: edutainment system for children with developmental disability". Multimedia Tools and Applications. 68 (2): 305–319. doi:10.1007/s11042-012-1089-x. ISSN 1380-7501.
  16. ^ Standen, P. J.; Brown, D. J. (2006-09-22). "Virtual reality and its role in removing the barriers that turn cognitive impairments into intellectual disability" (PDF). Virtual Reality. 10 (3–4): 241–252. doi:10.1007/s10055-006-0042-6. ISSN 1359-4338.
  17. ^ Bavelier, Daphne; Green, C. Shawn; Han, Doug Hyun; Renshaw, Perry F.; Merzenich, Michael M.; Gentile, Douglas A. (2011). "Brains on video games". Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 12 (12): 763–768. doi:10.1038/nrn3135. PMC 4633025. PMID 22095065.
  18. ^ "Effect of computer-based video games on children: An experimental study" (PDF).
  19. ^ Bavelier, Daphne; Green, C. Shawn; Han, Doug Hyun; Renshaw, Perry F.; Merzenich, Michael M.; Gentile, Douglas A. (2011). "Brains on video games". Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 12 (12): 763–768. doi:10.1038/nrn3135. PMC 4633025. PMID 22095065.
  20. ^ "Disadvantages - Games in Education". Retrieved 2016-05-15.
  21. ^ Young, Michael F.; Slota, Stephen; Cutter, Andrew B.; Jalette, Gerard; Mullin, Greg; Lai, Benedict; Simeoni, Zeus; Tran, Matthew; Yukhymenko, Mariya (2012-03-01). "Our Princess Is in Another Castle A Review of Trends in Serious Gaming for Education". Review of Educational Research. 82 (1): 61–89. doi:10.3102/0034654312436980. ISSN 0034-6543.
  22. ^ Duff, Simon (2015-03-01). Fran C. Blumberg (ed.). "Learning by Playing: Video Gaming in Education". Psychology Learning & Teaching. 14 (1): 77–79. doi:10.1177/1475725714565261. ISSN 1475-7257.