Video games in education

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Video games can be used in educational settings. Video games can be used as an alternative to a classroom setting while still maintaining levels of difficulty that foster learning.

If a game is successful, gamers will take the time to develop knowledge about all aspects of the game, and the game will be played for a long time with great attention to it. The main goal of the developers is 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 and learning through the process of play.

Compared to a classroom model[edit]

In a traditional classroom model, it is typical for the teacher to stand in front of the class and lecture the students. Since students will learn at different speeds, it is possible that some students will be held back or left behind because of the pace of the class. In addition, 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; instead of providing information over an extended class period, games provide small amounts of information at relevant stages. Moreover, video games will provide the information that is actually needed for that junction within the game, whereas this may not be the case in a classroom setting. Many games also involve varying levels of problem solving, requiring an active mind to achieve the completion of a goal. It is traditionally considered optimal for a game to provide gameplay that is doable but challenging enough that the player must work at its completion. Because games follow this model, they create a certain degree of frustration in the player; however, this does not deter them from wanting to play, instead giving them more motivation to continue play and improve their skills. 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.[1] After the player has achieved mastery over the game at a certain difficulty level, they can increase the difficulty setting and receive further challenges.

An example of how a video game can provide information gradually is found in the God of War series. In the beginning of the game, the player character has full access to all the powers and upgrades available in the game, enabling the player to develop basic skills. After a short period of time, all of these helpful characteristics of the avatar are taken away; but the player will 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. A gamer who wishes to master the game 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, encouraging them to keep playing. Meanwhile, the player can learn to use each piece of equipment individually and become stronger in using it.

Educational setting[edit]

As early as 1978, research was conducted relating video games to the motivational effects involved in learning as well as their cognitive potential. As video games spread in the 1980s, the research became more diversified. Its findings showed 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.[2] It also found that:

  • Video games helped students to identify and attempt to correct their deficiencies.
  • The adaptability of video games, and the control that players have over them, motivate and stimulate learning.
  • In cases where students have difficulty concentrating, video games can be highly useful.
  • The instant feedback given by video games help arouse curiosity and in turn allows for greater chances of learning.

One common argument for the use of video games in education is that they enable learning from the simulation while having no danger associated with mistakes. For instance, the Air Force uses piloting simulations in order to teach their pilots how to fly the airplanes. These simulations are meant to prepare the training pilot for real-world flight conditions 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 ARMA and Socom franchises in their training. Games like these immerse the gamer into the realm of the game and will attempt to achieve whatever objective is set out for them using their tactical skills. This allows for the military to show their soldiers how to engage certain situations without the risk of injury.[3]

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. Many authors have noted the educational potential of games like The Sims (for its social simulation) or the Civilization series (for its historical and strategy elements), concluding that video games as a whole promote intellectual development, and suggest that players can use them to develop knowledge strategies, practice problem-solving, and can improve spatial skills.[4]

Using video games in the classroom[edit]

Possible benefits[edit]

Some teachers have attempted to use video games within a classroom setting. 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.[5] Further to this, although the effect-size is small, a video game's ability to immerse students in fantasy role-play can help develop their self-concept in particular domains in a way that equivalent active-learning tasks may not.[6]

Video games are inherently incentive-based systems with the player being rewarded for solving a problem or completing a mission, while meeting certain criteria.[5] Every 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. Video games teach a systematic way of thinking as well as an understanding for how different variables affect each other.[5] Video games also enhance reaction-based skills by providing the element of the unknown, which makes the player react naturally. Games can constantly and automatically assess the learner's ability at any given moment due to the software-based nature of the medium; modular education structures tend to be deliver assessments in large chunks and present a relatively limited picture of student progress.[5]

Games such as Minecraft and Portal have been suggested as platforms for teachers to experiment with their educational abilities. Minecraft is a sandbox game in which the user can create objects using the crafting system, while Portal is a physics game: 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 latter game's design. Both Minecraft and Portal are easily adaptable to different learning environments; Minecraft tends to be used more with young children while Portal is typically used by high school physics teachers.

One study[7] showed that using a video game as part of class discussions, as well as including timely and engaging exercises relating the game to class material, can improve student performance and engagement. Instructors assigned groups of students to play the video game SPORE in a freshman undergraduate biology course on evolution. The group of students that was assigned to play SPORE and complete related exercises, in a total of 5 sessions throughout the semester, had average class scores about 4% higher than the non-gaming group. The game's inaccuracies helped to stimulate critical thinking in students; one student said it helped her understand "the fine parts of natural selection, artificial selection, survival of the fittest, and genetic diversity because of the errors within the game. It was like a puzzle." However, because the game was accompanied by additional exercises and instructor attention, this study is not overwhelming evidence for the hypothesis that video games in isolation increase student engagement. One scientist performed a experiment that would see if playing video games would cool down the nerve system and his experiment came out as he expected.

Polish studies showed positive impact of popular modifications (mods) for Rome Total War in the process of historical education at the academic level.

Students who have played Europa Barbarorum had knowledge of historical geography beyond the scope taught during the basic ancient history course. They were able to identify the most important stages of civilization development in the case of states of the Hellenistic era and were very knowledgeable about military history and history of art. This knowledge was in large part derived from the comprehensive descriptions included in the game; students also admitted that after playing the game they were much more eager to turn to books dealing with the given historical period.[8]

Another source[9] studied teachers using Civilization III in high school history classrooms, both during and after school. In this study, not all students were in favor of using the game. Many students found it too difficult and tedious. Some students, particularly high-performing students, were concerned about how it could affect their studies; they felt that "Civilization III was insufficient preparation for the 'game' of higher education." However, students who were failing in the traditional school setting often did significantly better in the game-based unit, and the game seemed to get their attention where traditional schooling did not.

Barriers to the use of games[edit]

Many teachers have reservations about using video games. One study[10] asked teachers who had some experience using games in class why they didn't do it more often. Six general categories of factors were identified as problem areas:

  • Inflexibility of curriculum: Teachers find it difficult to integrate games with the already-set curriculum present in classrooms. It can be difficult to locate a game that is educational as well as fun. And many teachers have no experience in using games to teach.
  • 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 do not have access to supporting text or work for students to do alongside games.
  • 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.

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]

Commercial video games in general, referred to as commercial off the shelf (COTS) games, have been suggested as having a potentially important role to assist learning in a range of crucial transferable skills.[5] One example of this would be in first-person shooter games such as the Call of Duty franchise (although these games are violent by nature, and they have been subject to massive negative reception by parents with varying justification). While the Call of Duty franchise itself falls short of actual tactical strategy or realism in depth, there are many games in the same genre (first-person shooters) from which one can learn key skills from the games: they stimulate the player at the cognitive level as they move through the level, mission, or game as a whole.[5] They also teach strategy, as players need to come up with ways to penetrate enemy lines, stealthily avoid the enemy, minimize casualties, and so on. Players can test their usage of these skills using the multiplayer aspect of these games. These games also allow players to enhance their peripheral vision, because they need to watch for movement on the screen and make quick decisions about whether it is a threat, to avoid wasting ammunition or harming allied players.

Other games, such as the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises, have been used to provide insight to the basic nature of education in video games. Success at these games requires the player to first fail multiple times – this is the only way to learn the proper actions.[5] These games also provide real-time feedback on how well the player is doing, an area in which traditional educational systems are lacking.[5] The main advantage with video games is that there is nothing to lose from failing, unlike in real life, where failing usually results in negative consequences.[5][11]

An example of another game that provides a model for decision-making skills is Deus Ex: Human Revolution. 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 makes it a better option to use that enhanced skill in the future. Also, games with built-in mini-maps will teach people how to read a map. 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.

Although video games are often thought of as non-learning, video games are a valuable collection for libraries to implement into their collection for their target audience to enhance their learning experience. Many new video games are being developed to allow students of all ages to learn new things and develop problem-solving skills and creativity. Additionally, many schools and homeschools have already introduced educational video games into their curricula. Some libraries keep such games available. Some examples of educational video games include the following:

  1. National Geographic Challenge: Platform: Xbox game that allows players to quiz themselves, complete puzzles, or explore the world. This game increase children's geographic knowledge. Year produced: November 29, 2011.
  2. Escape Adventure Island: Platform: Nintendo Wii game implementing a 3D environment that encourages and helps children to practice math, reading, and critical thinking skills while earning virtual rewards as they progress through the game. Year produced: November 17, 2009
  3. Storybook workshop: Platform: Nintendo Wii game that is good for beginning or easy readers. Storybook workshop encompasses 16 fairy tales that enhances children's experiences to listen to or perform, songs to sing, and record children reading the stories. Year produced: December 1, 2009
  4. UDraw Studio: Instant Artist: Platform: Nintendo Wii. The UDraw studio drawing device enhances children's creativity in the subject of art by utilizing built in games with avatars or by masterpiece creations from scratch. Year produced: November 14, 2010

A research project involving positive use of video games is outlined in an article that focuses on studies that suggest there are health benefits to playing video games. This article[12] presents information from studies from the University of Utah, Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, 2009's Annual Review of Cybertherapy and Telemedicine, University of Washington, Visual Development Lab of Ontario's McMaster University, University of Rochester in New York, and North Carolina State University. The researchers from these universities found that video games are therapeutic for children with chronic illnesses, can improve preschoolers' motor skills, reduce stress and depression, provide relief from pain, improve vision, improve decision making skills, and maintain happiness in old age as well.[12]


While video games are a constantly growing part of culture, they are still criticized for being violent and addictive. However, during debates within the United States Senate, many experts have testified that there is a lack of scientific evidence proving a direct link between video games and the negative effects attributed to them.[4]

The educational aspects of video games for an older audience tend to be less obvious than those of children's video games. Designing educational games for older individuals requires more thoughtful design. Adults often look to video games as diversions from everyday work and responsibilities during free time.

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].[13]

The shooting at Columbine led to a negative image of video gaming. Video games became known as reasons for children to bully other children, drop out of school, or steal from other people. This shift in perspective caused researchers to adjust their experiment tactics and consider different aspects of gaming. More recently,[when?] studies refocused on the "negative moral, social, psychological, and even physiological effects of video games" [p148].[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gee, James Paul (October 2003). "What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy" (PDF). ACM Computers in Entertainment. 1 (1): 1–4. Retrieved 11 October 2011. 
  2. ^ Greenfield, P.M. (1985). El niño y los medios de communicatión. Morata, Madrid. ISBN 9788471123022. 
  3. ^ K.D. Squire (2003). "Video games in education". Int. J. Intell. Games & Simulation. 2 (1): 49–62. 
  4. ^ a b M. De Aguilera; A. Mendiz (2003). "Video games and education: (Education in the Face of a 'Parallel School')". Computers in Entertainment (CIE). Vol. 1 no. 1. p. 1. doi:10.1145/950566.950583. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Nick Tannahill; Patrick Tissington; Carl Senior (2012). "Video Games and Higher Education: What Can 'Call of Duty' Teach our Students?". Frontiers in Psychology. 3: 210. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00210. PMC 3382412Freely accessible. PMID 22737142. 
  6. ^ Scott, Michael; Ghinea, Gheorghita (6 March 2013). Integrating Fantasy Role-Play into the Programming Lab: Exploring the 'Projective Identity' Hypothesis (pdf). Proceedings of the 44th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education. ACM. pp. 119–122. doi:10.1145/2445196.2445237. Retrieved January 1, 2016. 
  7. ^ Poli, Dorothybelle; et al. (2012). "Bringing Evolution to a Technological Generation: A Case Study with the Video Game SPORE". American Biology Teacher. 74 (2): 100–103. doi:10.1525/abt.2012.74.2.7. (subscription required)
  8. ^ "Ł. Różycki (2012), Video games in the process of historical education at the academic level, Colloquium, t. 4/2012, p. 75-82.". Retrieved 2016-09-27. 
  9. ^ Squire, K.D. (2005). "Changing the game: what happens when video games enter the classroom?" (PDF). Innovate: Journal of Online Education. 1 (6). ISSN 1552-3233. 
  10. ^ Baek, Y.K. (2008). "What hinders teachers in using computer and video games in the classroom? Exploring factors inhibiting the uptake of computer and video games". CyberPsychology & Behavior. 11 (6): 665–671. doi:10.1089/cpb.2008.0127. PMID 19006464. 
  11. ^ Shatz, I. (2015). Using Gamification and Gaming in Order to Promote Risk Taking in the Language Learning Process (PDF). Proceedings of the 13th Annual MEITAL National Conference. Haifa, Israel: Technion. pp. 227–232. 
  12. ^ a b Gallagher, Danny (March 10, 2013). "7 health benefits of playing video games". 
  13. ^ a b Davidson, Cathy N. Now You See It. New York, NY: Penguin Group USA Inc. pp. 144–148. ISBN 978-0-670-02282-3.