Video games have enjoyed a tremendous shift in society’s attitude since their first introduction in 1947. Not only have they become the focus of a billion dollar industry they have also become a culturally significant tool for sharing ideas and even sparked the discussion of whether or not they are an art form. More importantly, where they were once viewed as a distraction from academic pursuits, video games have begun to find their place in education as well.
Minecraft, for instance, has made its way into the classroom despite being designed for entertainment rather than education. From detailed reproductions of cities around the world to functional “machines” within the game complete with logic gates and basic programming principles, the value of video games as educational tools is finally getting some recognition. In an article on Huffingtonpost.com titled “7 Ways Video Games Will Help Your Kids in School”, author Kara Loo outlines the benefits that video games have with concern to children learning. Among these Loo cites a national survey which found that seventy-eight percent of teachers said their low-performing students’ skills were improved by the inclusion of digital games. Education games solutions to some of the difficult questions about student performance, engagement, and learning obstacles.
Even games like Portal 2 have been found to increase the cognitive and non-cognitive skills in undergraduate students while games such as Borderlands 2, a first person shooter, improved student’s skills in communication, resourcefulness, and adaptability. Perhaps most interesting among these studies is the observation that, like Minecraft, these games were not designed with education in mind at all. Imagine what could be done if high-budget games were developed with education as a primary goal.
Yet another game has shown that video games need not detract from academic pursuit and can, in fact, drive students to further reading and exploration of a subject. A modification for the game Rome Total War titled “Europa Barbarorum” expanded the game and its historical accuracy to such a degree that students were “able to identify the most important stages of civilization development” and “eager to turn to books dealing with the given historical period,” according to a study by Lukasz Rozycki.
These studies and more have led to the creation of initiatives like the eLearning Guild which hosts a collection of courses and materials to help educational game developers maximize the potential educational value of their games. Alan Gershenfeld, President and Co-Founder of E-Line Media, believes that well executed video games can provide a strong framework for inquiry and project-based learning. E-Line Media works to develop and publish games that help players understand and shape the world, they have worked with other groups such as the Gates Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation to accomplish this task which, among other things, illustrates Loo’s point that games offer a mode for players to engage ethically- and morally-complicated issues.
Gershenfeld adds, “Games are also uniquely suited to fostering the skills necessary for navigating a complex, interconnected, rapidly changing 21st century.”