More and more educators are hailing video games as a teaching tool with a bright future. And why not? Just look at the situation in a growing number of schools. Whether used for teaching core subjects such as math and English in a new and more engaging format, or helping students acquire technology-related skills (a requirement for numerous jobs these days), video games are finding their way into the classroom.
Of course, for many children around the world, video games are something they’re introduced to, and frequently develop an affinity for, at home. In other words, from an early age, such kids might already be amenable to receiving instruction via this particular medium. Thus is born the bridge between education and video games.
The traditional approach to teaching, which emphasizes standardized syllabi and tests, has in recent years had to contend with charges that it is outmoded and inflexible. Increasingly, educators are gravitating to an approach that allows for greater creativity and exploration through innovative tools. Enter video games. And while video games are seldom relied upon entirely for imparting lessons, when combined with other methods and tools conducive to hands-on learning, they can be highly effective.
It’s no coincidence that the use of video games specifically for educational purposes has spawned a mini-industry. A good deal of modulable Triple-A games are being recalibrated as educational tools. Examples include SimCityEDU and MinecraftEdu, which are used to teach mathematics and languages.
Taking things a step further are schools such as New York City’s Quest to Learn (Q2L), which is designing its entire educational enterprise around the principles and methods of game design. Here, video game strategies govern not only how students learn, but what they learn. Every aspect of the curriculum is incorporated into “missions” or “quests.” The challenges the student is presented with typically have several possible resolutions; to reach one, the student must make a series of informed decisions. Meanwhile, the teacher’s role comes to resemble that of a facilitator who periodically takes a step back in order to give students leeway.
Video games as multifaceted educational tools
Few would argue with the proposition that “[t]he 21st-century learner is expected to be a critical thinker, make informed judgments, be a creative problem solver, communicate and collaborate with others, use information in innovative ways, and take responsibility for himself and others.” Well, the author of the above lines goes on to conclude: “Gaming provides the avenue for all of these skills to be in play.” How does it do this? In several ways.
Through video games, students are exposed to new and different perspectives. When a player starts to engage with a game, one of her first objectives is to learn the rules of a virtual world – and act accordingly. Then, in order to make informed decisions about how to overcome the various challenges she’s presented with, she will have to process information and hone her skills, all the while abiding by the rules. This in itself is an effective exercise in problem-solving that is eminently relatable to our everyday lives.
Indeed, the challenges video games pose are a metaphor for life. Grappling with such challenges and cultivating a spirit of resilience can help prepare us for the trials and tribulations of the real world. Additionally, video games serve as a means to tackle and resolve problems without suffering serious repercussions in the event of failure. This encourages students to collaborate, think creatively, and take risks, all without the fear of defeat. Enterprising players will learn from every failure. And creative problem-solvers are just what we need.
Games that feature role-playing and have upgradable stats tend to present players with moral dilemmas, with every choice directly affecting the narrative trajectory of the game. And as the narrative and related story aspects deepen and grow more complex, the moral quandaries often assume a greater resemblance to their real-life counterparts. Just look at the games developed by Quantic Dream (i.e., Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human), for example. As a matter of fact, even Witcher 3 and Dragon’s Age: Inquisition, which are of course more heavily grounded in fantasy, are tending in this direction.
While myriad formulas are employed in game design, a common factor is that players are given clues and choices. The player must piece together a strategy from these, while keeping the game’s rules and mechanics in mind. This combination of information retention, critical thinking, and strategizing makes for a transferable skill set.
Another strong point in favor of implementing video games in education is that the students who tend to benefit the most from them are the otherwise low-performing ones, those averse to more conventional teaching methods. Students who may otherwise not like reading exercises, for example, may enjoy the activity within the context of playing games that require it. Indeed, certain students’ comprehension and reading skills are best measured by observing their decisions and performance in narrative-driven video games they enjoy playing, as they are more likely to apply themselves to the tasks at hand.
Games that pique youngsters’ curiosity also have a way of inspiring them to find out more about the subjects on which they’re based. For instance, games set in actual historical settings are known to kindle interest in those same epochs and their historical figures. One famous example of this is the wildly popular Assassin’s Creed. Civilization also comes to mind, as do Rome: Total War and Age of Empires, given that they rely heavily on history in building their otherwise fictional worlds and designing their game features.
Even the breakneck-paced action games may serve to enhance users’ memory, pinpointing abilities, and reflexes. For instance, research shows that regular players often develop a knack for remembering several bits of information simultaneously as well as finding specific objects quickly even in a chaotic background. Needless to say, these traits come in handy well beyond the virtual world of the video game.
Often enough, video games are blamed for aggravating isolationist tendencies in players. However, a good number of games, and even entire console systems, try to foster sociability. Some even go so far as to encourage intergenerational communication between adults and children. In fact, this has become a central aspect of Nintendo’s game and console design, with Nintendo Wii and Nintendo Switch as prime examples.
One final matter worth noting is that due to faster and more resilient Internet connectivity, many games now allow for collaborative work regardless of users’ location. Over and above adding a new virtual dynamic to socializing, this allows for the discovery and exploration of different cultures through virtual travel, something particularly significant if physical travel is not possible. Fast forward to the time when children playing such games today join the workforce, and there’s no doubt that collaborative projects between far-flung co-workers will be a lot more commonplace. We can predict as much simply by taking stock of the growing popularity of online conferencing and cloud technology.
The way forward
Like anything new and groundbreaking, video games generate a palpable divide between those who advocate their use as a teaching/learning tool and those who oppose such a move. Although it’s important to remain somewhat wary of new trends and methodologies, and imperative to quickly and effectively address any obvious faults or deficiencies, here at AUM we are quite optimistic about the benefits of video games’ expanding role in education.
As many of you will have noticed by now, AUM is receptive to new trends and technologies, especially when they serve to enhance education. This makes us strong proponents of video games continuing to find their way into the classroom. Indeed, alongside our students, we intend to tap into the phenomenon – and even contribute to shaping it.