Meaningful Fun: Why Video Games Should be Used in the Classroom (Part 1 of 3)

Posted by SM Bruner on

Video games get a bad rap.  Parents ban their children from ever playing them, social critics bemoan them for their violence, and teachers view them as brain-killing devices par excellence. And yet, kids still play them, even more than they watch TV or movies (Klopfer, et al. 1).  Millions of children and adults simply love to play video games, and indeed, “Computer games seem to motivate young people in a way that formal education doesn’t.” (Facer, page 1)  Then why not harness this incredibly captivating medium for educational purposes?  Why not use kids’ inherent interest in this technology to teach?  Choosing to use videogames in the classroom can provide students with amazing educational opportunities.

Games can teach their players in many different ways, on many different levels.  From the core mechanics of how video games are played, they teach new and important ways of processing information.  From their immersive environments, they create situated meaning which lets academic content be more deeply understood.  Through their modes of play they teach students higher order thinking skills, and by using detailed simulations, they can train students how to think in certain, specific ways.  All of these opportunities for learning are largely ignored in traditional classrooms, and even in progressive ones.  However, they should not be.  Video games not only have their own lessons to teach as stated above, but they also fit into educational frameworks that are being put into practice today.

All video games teach players some meaningful skills.  There is learning going on in even the most graphically violent, or mundane, or socially-backwards video game.  Studies have shown that “regular and intensive games play is developing… a set of new cognitive abilities,” in young people (Facer, 1).  Video games of all types are teaching five primary new skills in information processing, none of which will come as a shock to someone who has spent time playing video games.  First, gamers develop the ability to process information quickly (Facer, 1).  In almost all games, there is some time-sensitive issue that the player must react to, a rapidly approaching meteor for example, that requires a split-second decision from the player.  Second, players develop the ability to quickly sort out relevant from irrelevant information (Facer, 1).  Why should I waste time breaking all of the blocks with Mario’s head when I know that only those marked with a “?” have coins in them?  Third, youngsters playing games are able to process information from multiple sources simultaneously (Facer, 1), such as the overhead map in the bottom left corner of the screen, the audio instructions coming from the game’s speakers, and the first-person view that occupies most of the screen.  Fourth, players become adept at, “Exploring information in a non-linear fashion – creating links rather than following a story,” (Facer, 1).  In many games (of the non-boring variety), clues and useful objects are not used by the player in the order they are found.  A player may have to use the key found in level one to unlock the door in level three where she can pick up the piece to the robot that was discovered in level two.  Lastly, gamers learn to access information through images first, and then text as most games today are graphically based (Facer, 1).  All of these skills are highly relevant and becoming more so in our digital age, although they are not in all state standards, many national education associations have recognized them as critical skills for the coming century (Klopfer et al., 7).  Most educational techniques used in schools today do not teach these patterns of processing information, but games – almost all games – do. Read the rest >>


Facer, Keri “Computer Games and Learning: Why do we think it’s worth talking about computer games and learning in the same breath? A discussion paper” Futurelab 2003

Gee, James, “Why Are Video Games Good For Learning?” University of Madison-Wisconsin

Kopfer, Eric, et al. “Using the Technology of Today, in the Classroom Today: The Instructional Power of Digital Games, Social Networking, Simulations and How Teachers can Leverage Them” The Education Arcade, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2009

Nieto, Sonia, The Light in Their Eyes: Creating Multicultural Learning Communities New York: Teachers College Press

Prensky, Marc, “What Kids Learn That’s POSITIVE From Playing Video Games” 2002

Shaffer, David, et al. “Video games and the future of learning,” University of Wisconsin-Madison and Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Laboratory 2004

Sizer, T. & Sizer, N. Grappling. In The Students are watching: Schools and the moral contract. Boston, MA: Beacon Press 1999.