Video gaming is a tool for education

Many people dismiss video gaming as a “waste of time” for young people who could be putting their time to better use. But studies show that video gaming can actually enhance the educational process in many ways.

Educators say that playing video games has been shown to be an effective tool for teaching subject like coding, biology and algebra and deepen learning and understanding. It’s also a good way to improve motor skills, encourage the development of critical thinking skills and promote social skills such as team building and leadership.

No kid ever said “thanks for this worksheet” but teachers have traditionally used worksheets and workbooks because they meet educational objectives. Now, teachers can accomplish the same learning objectives that they would aim for with a worksheet by giving kids some gaming time.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to all games – board games and games offered at online casinos, for instance, don’t offer the same educational boost as video games. But a growing body of research is demonstrating that video games address promote students’ educational progress in multiple ways.

Video Games

Many educators, parents and community members are wary of video games. Video games have a reputation for being highly addictive and, in many cases, full of violent content. Such criticisms can’t be ignored but like it or not, kids find video games highly engaging and are spending larger chunks of their day engaged in play.

Around the world teachers have been taking note of the way that kids relate to video games. Yet, while teachers complain that kids aren’t doing their schoolwork properly because they are playing, they acknowledge that there are positive qualities to the games. The video game designers have succeeded – perhaps unintentionally – in finding ways to motivate players to confront complex and challenging tasks. This, after all, should be the ultimate goal of education!

Is it possible to make education more dynamic by incorporating elements of video game culture?


Gamification, which is now studied at university level, explores teaching tools and approaches to determine how the mechanisms of video games can stimulate student engagement. According to Karl Kapp, professor of Instructional Technology at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA and author of The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook, gamification approaches use “game-based mechanics, esthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning and solve problems.

Gamification isn’t a new concept – educators have been talking and writing about it for over 70 years. Delivering content via games has been shown to increase student satisfaction, lead to better academic performance and bolster student perseverance.

Gamification, which applies game-playing elements to nongame environments isn’t being adapted only by educators for non-gaming aims – some examples of other organizations that use gamification to engage users include the U.S. Army (as a recruitment tool and for training), Nike Fuel (to encourage customers to compete against each other and then share results on social media), Starbucks (loyalty program), Beat GMAT (encourages competition among those preparing for the GMAT), etc.


It’s in the field of education that gamification is drawing the most interest. Educators are examining  novel applications of games, leading to gamification becoming a new field of study. One innovative program is the Video Games and Virtual Worlds as Sites for Learning and Engagement course taught at Penn State’s Graduate School of Education by Yasmin Kafai, introduces students to how to make and play games in a learning environment.

One of Kafai’s co-instructors is Mamta Shah. Shah is a learning scientist at Elsevier who specializes in game-based learning. She said “This course is so interdisciplinary in its focus and that’s its strongest appeal, I believe. Games have penetrated every aspect of our society—even apart from [K-12] education. Health care education, higher education, training in business, military training, so many of these sectors have adopted games, simulations, or gamification as a means to attain some training or learning goals.”


In many of these cases, it’s not the games per se that drive the engagement but the rewards that the engagement produces (a key element of video gaming). Educational researchers have taken the idea of rewards to the next level. They have shown that, by rewarding people with badges, trophies and other incentives -- similar to the prizes typically found on popular video game consoles -- students tend to demonstrate more creativity, participate more actively, demonstrate better team spirit, show more curiosity, assume leadership positions more readily, respond to challenges with more humor, have better attendance and be more helpful.

Rewards can also be used to track and measure progress

Mamta Shah of Penn State commented, “I feel like the time we are living in has truly unleashed the potential of play in general. Specifically though, I think this time will inspire a new round of interest in games among educators and the wider society. For my class, I have used this novel period to help my students understand how games can be used to connect with others and self, and to explore social and civic issues. I hope people will learn from this time and advocate for the role(s) of playful environments in education and beyond.”

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