Since their introduction to the market at large in the late 1970s, much debate has surrounded the merit and impact of video games. Journalists and scholars alike debate whether or not they constitute art, what impact violence in games may have on the youth, and other difficult subjects. More recently, educators have been revisiting the idea of using computer games as an educational tool. While you may personally prefer them for their entertainment value, a significant body of research has demonstrated the benefits of incorporating computer games into the classroom.
Instilling Achievement and Self-Esteem
Whether it’s to solve a mystery or save a princess, most computer games have a “win condition” in the form of an end goal or achievement. Accomplishing this goal requires the player to learn skills and game systems along the way. This desire for achievement, knowledge, and understanding, when applied to students and their educational goals, is referred to as the “mastery mindset.” By pairing computer games and education, teachers have been able to cultivate this necessary mindset towards subjects that are more difficult and therefore less popular with students, such as math.
By putting the development of math skills within the context of the game, students are given a more accessible and familiar way of approaching this goal. Likewise, children who learn math skills through games are more comfortable with making mistakes along the way, since they view it as part of the game and rather than a deficiency of their own abilities.
Maintaining a student’s self-esteem is a key part of keeping them engaged in the classroom and game help frame mistakes and challenges in an approachable way, while also providing structured parameters for achievement. Structuring the curriculum’s material using the piecemeal method games use to impart the skills needed to beat them also makes subjects more accessible by breaking up skills into more digestible segments.
Cultivating empathy in your children isn’t just an essential life skill and component of leading a happy life. Empathy also forms the foundation of several academic subjects, with history being the most prominent. As technology has improved, the ability of computer games to simulate the real world in a way that not only excites the imagination, but also creates a more immersive and realistic experience has also increased. Because of this, computer games can be used to allow students to virtually enter the past in an interactive way that field trips to historical sites and museums simply can’t replicate.
This was demonstrated as far back as the 1970s with the creation of the Oregon Trail game that not only taught children basic geographical and historical information but also placed them into the difficult position of a family attempting to forge a path to the then unsettled western United States.
This sort of immersion and decision-making based gameplay teaches students to empathize with the past on an individual level, whereas textbooks sometimes treat history as a monolithic subject with little room for individual stories. Now, there are dozens of “open world” games that allow a broad freedom of choices as well as consequences.
Fun and Functional
Whether through the use of art projects, memorization games, or creative writing and storytelling, adding fun to the classroom is hardly a new concept. While computer games do this in a more apparent way, it’s important to realize that their value extends well beyond their entertainment value. Check out sites like The eLearning Guild and see what games might be available for your students or children. Games’ ability to convincingly recreate areas of study in a visual and interactive way allows students to more effectively engage with the material on a personal level, cultivating empathy and giving students a personal connection to class subjects.