The Educational Benefits of Video Games

from Educators' eZine

The average household with a child has two televisions, three tape players, three radios, two VCRs, two CD players, one video game player, and at least one computer. On a regular basis 60% of all Americans play interactive games. Parents report that their children between the ages of 2 and 17 spend from six to seven hours per day watching a screen: television, video game, or computer. About 80% of American households own a computer and 78% have video gaming equipment. These startling facts about video and computer games are often not understood by educators. The majority of teachers are female with an average age of 46. Technology brought into the classroom typically includes word processing, data bases, video, and digital cameras. Many teachers just do not view videogames as a learning tool (Simpson, 2005).

School districts generally encourage differentiation of instruction, but teachers are concerned about behavior-management and control issues. "Compared to the classroom, games are empowering, motivating, individualized differentiated learning environments with set rules which value the effort of the individual child" (Simpson, 2005, p. 18). One of the positives of video game usage is differentiation. Computer games do provide benefits and learning potential. A typical video game presents a problem to be solved and different ways to achieve the solution. Students are motivated because they can accomplish the impossible by utilizing computer games. Trial and error, allocation of resources, and persevering at a task are all part of the learning experience. Both competition and collaboration are features of computer games. The software clearly establishes roles, powers, and limitations. Gamers have the right to choose their own path and understand that they must take responsibility for their own actions. They realize that there are both negative and positive consequences during game play. Games simulate real-life consequences. Patience and perseverance leads to success in the computer adventure (Simpson, 2005).

Research has provided preliminary information on the implications of the computer's effects on young children's social, psychological, cognitive development, and academic learning. Din and Calao completed a literature review of current research and concluded "computer-related technology use plays a positive role in young children's social, psychological, cognitive and academic development" (Din and Calao, 2001, p.98). In their search for understanding they decided to investigate whether kindergarten children who played Sony PlayStation educational video games learned better than peers who were not members of the experimental group. Din and Calao stated that playing Lightspan educational video games may play a facilitative role in their learning of verbal skills (Din & Calao, 2001).

Nippold, Duthie, and Larsen (2005) wanted to examine the leisure-time preferences of students with respect to reading and other activities. Thy determined the amount of time that young people spend reading for pleasure to be important. The last area of study was to determine if specific age or gender was a critical factor in their choice of leisure time usage. The participants were 100 sixth graders and 100 ninth graders attending public schools in Oregon. An equal number of boys and girls were subjects for each grade level. All participants completed a survey concerning their leisure-time preferences and reading materials. They also reported the average amount of time they spent reading for pleasure each day. Although the most popular free-time activities were listening to music or going to concerts, playing computer or video games was ranked fourth. Cooking, running or walking, writing, and arts and crafts were the least preferred activities. Reading was moderately popular with magazines, novels, and comics as the most popular reading materials.

Educators might consider taking some cues from their students. It is obvious that students participate willingly in non-school activities they like; so it follows that they will more likely participate willingly in school endeavors which are also fun and of interest to them. Gamers will spend hours working their way though challenging game levels, and this cannot be said for challenging work related to school. Gamers continue the search for excellence in games for intrinsic motivation. Computer games can open the door to untapped learning potential. There are academic payoffs for utilizing computer games in an academic setting. Students develop the sense of being a learner and the understanding of being an expert. Computers motivate students to develop basic competencies and encourage challenging themselves to be better and learn additional knowledge related to the task. Students are personally and socially more invested in activities that are motivational. Gamers are motivated to master content because they are engaging in something in which they want to participate. Challenging games put gamers in charge of their own learning and they continue to be presented with obstacles that must be solved to achieve their ultimate goal (Jenkins, 2005). Now could be the opportune time for schools to 'get into the game' and begin to use gaming and computers in a creative manner in the classroom.

The founders of the Education Arcade at MIT stated that there are many intrinsic motivations for learning associated with games. The threat of failure is lowered. Games allow students to try, make mistakes or fail, and then try again without losing face. Because the classroom can be a scary place for some students, but an atmosphere of non-judgmental and non-confrontational learning may be an asset. Discovery and application of learned skills in new contexts encourages exploration and experimentation. A sense of engagement continues during gaming. Computer games allow students to be stakeholders in the events that occur on the screen. Games provide early success and maintain challenging activities without being overwhelming. Games incorporate initial victory, but further challenges motivate players to continue, and being challenged by more success on the horizon powerfully motivates learning through goal setting and creation of a context in which gamers immediately use learning to solve problems that have real-life consequences.

Games create a social interaction between individuals who share their interests, which provides a sense of empowerment and expertise. Learning experiences are more powerful when they incorporate many modes of text representation. Games include text, photographs, graphics, or moving images from multiple perspectives. Games encourage rehearsal of skills, knowledge mastery, and motivate additional research and learning. Games allow students to assume the role of historical figures and encourage students to learn from primary source materials. Students may see the events through the eyes of a character who is from a different social class, race, or gender. Players can experience historical events, which helps them develop an understanding of global politics, or historical events from different perspectives through role-playing games. The role-playing leads to writing assignments, class discussions, and presentations in a variety of forms. Computer games hook the students' attention, which allows teachers to expand learning and provide other related experiences in context (Jenkins, 2005).

Joel Foreman, associate professor at George Mason University, stated, "These virtual settings anticipate advanced online learning worlds that can be dedicated to different subjects, populated by single users and teams, and pedagogically structured for deep and rapid experience-based learning" (Whelan, 2005, p. 41). Gaming allows students to be personally involved which in turn causes them to be more motivated to retain the learned material. Saslhia Barab who is one of the Quest Atlantis creators also states, "If we treat school activity in terms of learning, playing, and helping, then we can more thoroughly engage children in the learning process" (p. 41).

The National Science Foundation and Barab's team at IU spent two years interviewing teachers and students, creating Quest Atlantis software, manning the game's chat rooms, and replying to Emails. Quest Atlantis was created to combine education, entertainment, and social responsibilities. All quests employed state standards and focused on problem solving and critical thinking. Following the two years of research Barab and his team could "conclusively say that the game is engaging, meaningful, and educational (p. 42).

The students who played Quest Atlantis had a deeper understanding of some language arts work and wrote more descriptive explanations in science. The team concluded their research and Barab stated, "The fact that we found statistically significant learning gains with respect to science, social studies, language arts, and meta-cognitive skills does indeed suggest that academic learning was occurring alongside of or in the process of the experience of playing" (p. 42). In summary he included, "these games have a legitimate place in the classroom" (p. 42).

The true work of children is play and games by which they learn about life and their world. It is a fact that all people will more readily participate in activities that they find engaging and fun, and this is particularly true of children. It seems that both educators and students would benefit if teachers could not only accept but embrace gaming technology in schools and classrooms. Yet there simply is not a large quantity of this type of material available to teachers or parents to use. The computer industry and particularly game programmers and creators need to team up with educators to create custom software to meet challenging educational endeavors. Colleges must initiate courses of study to prepare teachers to use this new tool so that teachers may be educated about the types of products available for use and the complex subject of gaming, as well as the jargon or language of gaming that gamers use.

The appropriate use of gaming in the classroom will necessitate teachers becoming fluent in gaming so as to make wise choices in terms of game selections and being able to guide students to achieve higher academic goals.

Email:Rebecca Haag Guyne


Din, F.S. & Calao, J. (2001). The effects of playing educational video games on kindergarten achievement. Child Study Journal, 31(2), 95-102.

Jenkins, H. (2005). Getting into the game. Educational Leadership, 62(7), 48-51.

Nippold, M.A., Duthie, J.K. & Larsen, J. (2005) Literacy as a leisure activity: Free-time preferences of older children and young adolescents. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services School, 36 (2), 93-102.

Simpson, E.S. (2005). What teachers need to know about the video game generation. TechTrends, 49 (5), 17-22.

Whelan, D.L. (2005). Let the games begin! School Library Journal, 51 (4), 40-43.