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Video Games in Education

This page includes some history of video games being used as an additional or alternative method to traditional education. This page presents why using video games are beneficial to use for educational purposes in the classroom as well as the limitations. This page additionally discusses how learning from video games outside the classroom is possible as well.

video games education classroom

1. Compared to a Classroom Model

Video games have been found to be more engaging; instead of providing information over an extended class period, games provide small amounts of information at relevant stages. Playing video games helps with metacognition (which describes the ability to think about your own thinking); strong metacognitive skills have been proven to help with developing academic skills and allows students to learn about their strengths and weaknesses and increase their performance.[1] Video games that are used as objects of study in classroom can enable students to be skilled rhetorical readers, by exposing literature and language from different discourse communities, and by encouraging students to practice reading the symbolic structure of inherently consumption-based video games.[2]

2. Educational Setting

As video games spread in the 1980s, the educational potential of them was researched. 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.[3] 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.
  • Promote critical awareness of discourse communities.
  • The instant feedback given by video games help arouse curiosity and in turn allows for greater chances of learning.
  • Video games teach cooperation.

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.[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. 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.[5]

3. Using Video Games in the Classroom

Several studies have attempted to answer, "How and to what extent are games used in the classroom?" In one study, fifty-three Swedish ESL teachers were surveyed; the outcome determined was that video games in the classroom were barely utilized. Although the teachers were open to the idea, they did not identify the benefits of applying video games to the curriculum. Video games created excitement, not for learning, but for the games.[6]

While there are people who do not agree with the idea of using video games in the classroom, others are open- minded to the experiment. Video games are an interactive entertainment. They promote intellectual skills that support academic achievement. In supplying students with educational subject matter, they demonstrated further advantage. Making use of video games in the classroom is simply another technique to engage with students.[7]

A study was conducted in a "3 week intervention with game- based learning activities in eight lower secondary classrooms." The study found that video games are a motivation to the students who do not find educational settings interesting. The purpose of the study was to increase engagement and participation of students. Class participation increases retention of the material. Encouragement for student involvement in the classroom is distinctly recommended.[8]

3.1. Possible Benefits

Some teachers have attempted to use video games within a classroom setting. There is some evidence which shows that for young children, educational video games promote student engagement.[9]

Video games are inherently incentive-based systems with the player being rewarded for solving a problem or completing a mission, while meeting certain criteria.[9] As a result, video games train a systematic way of thinking as well as an understanding for how different variables affect each other.[9] Furthermore, video 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 deliver assessments in large chunks and present a relatively limited picture of student progress.[9]

Video 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 adaptable to some learning environments; for instance, Minecraft has been used for young children while Portal has been used by high school physics teachers. Portal 2 has also been used to develop cognitive skills in older undergraduate students, however.[10] A 2017 study found that games including Portal 2, Borderlands 2, Gone Home and Papers, Please may be used to develop a range of skills in undergraduate students, such as communication, resourcefulness and adaptability.[11]

One study[12] 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 five 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.

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. However, Whether or not this intention materialized into more reading of historical periods is not clear.[13]

Another source[14] 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.

According to an article on interactive video games in physical education, many of these types of games are not just animated exercise. Many have different assessments and scores based on performance of skills. Some have heart rate monitors and estimate caloric expenditure. Others are designed with enhancing motor abilities in mind. Abilities such as balance, hand-eye coordination, agility and core strength are a few of the motor skills enhanced. These engaging and interactive games have the ability to teach kids about the some physiological functions of the body. One example is that these games can help show kids how their heart reacts to different activities by using the heart rate monitor within the game.[15]

One study took the game Semideus to see if it could help to improve performance on rational number tasks, the understanding of whole numbers and mathematical thinking in general. The study concluded if kids were introduced to games that have math well integrated into the gameplay then it kids then it will help them with their skills. The study recommended that the teacher be involved in the game based learning to improve its effectiveness in the students learning.[16]

According to journal article, simulation video games makes the player to learn to think critically while gaining knowledge of the environment. The player learns to solve problems through trial and error. Players are able to learn by doing. They learn by experiencing things first-hand and role-playing. These virtual environments enable better learning, collaboration, and enhanced practical reasoning skills.[17]

3.2. Possible Negative Effects

One argument for possible negative effects explains how kids are already spending too much time with technology outside the classroom. It explains that over seven and a half hours a day are being used by children eight to eighteen on media outside of school. With the large amount of time technology is being used by children, this argument claims that the time spent on screens may be replacing critical face to face communication may be negatively affecting children's face to face communication skills. To find out if this was true or not an experiment was done where two groups were taken from the same school. One group had many different bonding activities without access to a screen throughout the course of five days. While the second group was allowed to use their screens how they normally do. To test their face to face communication skills both groups took pre and post tests for comparison. The results suggested that those who were went away for the five days did much better in reading facial emotion than the control group.[18]

3.3. Barriers to the Use of Games

Many teachers have reservations about using video games. One study[19] 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. Learning with games may not be accepted by skeptical parents who personally learned with more conventional techniques. The interdisciplinary field of game studies has offered a variety of perspectives to complement traditional modes of rhetorical analysis and production, which should be adapted to address the unique affordances of video games as a medium in contrast to the traditional banking model of education. [20]
  • Stigma: Video games are associated with children's play or a leisurely pass time for the adolescent population, which creates tension between the reality of video games enhance a child's educational viewpoint. Video games are thought of to distract children from the seriousness of academics and is considered an unproductive activity.[21]
  • 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. More sophisticated games, often yielding the most learning content, often take hours to learn, and more time to play. The tutorials for Civilization V take an hour to finish, and complete games can take 10s of hours.
  • Limited budgets: Computer equipment, software, and fast Internet connections are expensive and difficult for teachers to obtain.
  • Relevance to Common Core: The educational systems is increasingly driven by standardized testing focused on assessment of common core topics. Games exist for these topics ( but gameplay is generally not competitive with commercial video games.

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 would be more worried about fixed class schedules and the lack of supporting materials than were experienced teachers.

4. Learning from Video Games Outside the Classroom

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.[9] 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.[9] 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.[9] These games also provide real-time feedback on how well the player is doing, an area in which traditional educational systems are lacking.[9] 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.[9][22]

Games similar in nature to Animal Crossing give the opportunity for its players to practice multiple life applicable skills such as time management, materialistic value, investing in payment plans, skill building, and more day to day neighborhood based activities. The value of the cutesy, animated, animal characters who each execute neighborliness in the video game foster a friendship value that primarily focuses on the social practices learned while playing the game. Players may experience an increase in comprehension, evaluation, and deliberate skills that are gained from playing this animated game that sends out messages about cultural, social, or political practices. [23]

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[24] 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.[24]

One study suggests that commercial video games can help players to improve in certain skills such as communication, resourcefulness, and adaptability. In this study undergraduate students were assigned at random to be in either an intervention or a control group. To measure adaptability, resourcefulness and communication, there were self-report instruments given to both groups.[25]


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  19. 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.
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