Gaming and Education—an Excellent Match for Mental Development

Profile Pic Neil Farne   September 14, 2017

One of the most rampant form of media nowadays is the video game. We do not only get this from dedicated video game consoles, but we also get them in our personal computers, as well as in our smart phones. We also get to purchase retro games that were not initially available for our everyday gadgets. However, there is this misconception about games that we ought to dispel—the idea that games are just mere distraction for people who are studying. In fact, studies have shown that video games are amazing tools to augment a person’s learning experience.

In a precursory view of video games, we see media that do not seem to give any learning value to anyone playing it across the age spectrum. What they primarily provide is something like gambling games or sports—a form of entertainment. Whatever genre of games you play—from the typical mobile puzzle games, to massive multiplayer online games—the image of a typical person who is immersed in gaming does it for the pleasure of relaxing away from the rigorous activities of daily life. However, what we do not scrutinize under a figurative microscope are the thought processes that one develops in overcoming adversity in video games, as well as talents the acquire that can be transferred from the virtual world to the real world. It is in the promotion of these subjects that game-based learning has been rapidly growing in popularity in both school and office settings.

To begin talking about game-based learning, we should know first what it is. Game-based learning is the use of games to enhance the learning experience. This is different from gamification, which do not make use of actual games—be it digital or otherwise—in the process of learning (Isaacs, “The Difference between Gamification and Game-Based Learning”). One best way to illustrate the former is through aviation schools using flight simulators to teach the mechanics of how to fly a specific type of plane to would-be pilots without subjecting them to the real physical risks of such activity unprepared. A flight simulator is, without a doubt, a video game which uses a computer as its medium, and is classified in the simulation genre—a rapidly rising genre in popularity. Another example of this would be the game The Oregon Trail, a video game created by Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) in 1974, created to teach children about the realities of 19th-century pioneer/settler life on the Oregon Trail. This game includes mechanics like hunting, trading, and creating settlements, the success of which depend on how quick a player types a word, or how s/he chooses in several game prompts.

Now that we know what game-based learning is, we must now ask this question: why do we need to have this concept for learning? According to Jessica Trybus of the New Media Institute, the traditional method of teaching in schools, as well as training in corporate settings rely heavily on the approach of “[drilling] us on certain narrow procedures, and then evaluate us on our memory of what we are told” (“Game-Based Learning: What it is, Why it Works, and Where it’s Going”). With the digital age rapidly growing, and with the population steadily increasing with the youth who are tech-savvy, the need for a highly-interactive and highly-immersive learning media becomes more apparent. With video games as a media, it revolutionises the motivation of a student as they “can quickly see and understand the connection between the learning experience and our real-life work” (Ambrose, qtd. in Trybus, “Game-Based Learning: What it is, Why it Works, and Where it’s Going”). This is illustrated through the basic mechanics of a video game, where a player works toward a goal, creates a series of methodologies to tackle the goal, and adjust through consequences in every procedure they take. This is directly observable in cases of simulations games; but the same thought patterns of problem solving are also used in other genre of games. One such example is in Dragon Quest, a Japanese role-playing game where a player takes on the guise of a main protagonist of the story, and it is up to him/her how s/he will approach various puzzles, enemy encounters, and dungeon boss battles to proceed further with the story.

Aside from the creation of a more fascinating environment, the mechanics of a game polishes and demonstrate abilities through application. The idea of scoring and trophies in games can force a player to adapt strategies to conquer an achievement that is tangent to the aim of a game. Take for instance the game Overwatch: for this game, the main goal is just for your team to conquer a map objective given to you. However, there are several sub-goals, whether it be a character-specific achievement, or a map objective-specific one, which encourages one to improve their tactics to approach the primary aim. This kind of adaptivity and logical thinking is then juxtaposed to real-life scenarios. What this means is that with video games, we open ourselves to a new method of measuring knowledge, as it is more appropriate to measure one’s capacities in the way they learn to make choices (MacKay, “Playing to learn: Panellists at Stanford discussion say using games as an educational tool provides opportunities for deeper learning”)

In summary, video games in and of itself are supplementary media that is designed to either let you experience what you are learning through direct simulation; or they can be media that stimulates the mind to create a new way to motivate one to learn, with a visible pay-off being presented at each stage of a game. So the next time you see a child playing video games, do not discourage them—they might be learning more than you think.