In the United States, 59% of people play video games (of this figure, 52% are male and 48% are female). Europe isn’t far behind, with Czech men and women near the front. Only Sweden, Finland and France have more players than the Czech Republic. 56% of the Czech population are gamers, of which 56% are male and 44% are female.
It isn’t just adults and teenagers — younger children play, too. Studies show that the youngest children will accumulate as many as 10,000 hours of gaming time by their 21st birthday. Wowpedia, an encyclopedia devoted to World of Warcraft, contains over 103,000 articles written by enthusiastic players. That brings us to a question: Could this devotion, energy and time be used in education? Wouldn’t games be the ideal educational tool in schools? As we have already seen, there are several options.
The Next Level
You can imagine parents’ reactions: How can “stupid games” be better than reading books or textbooks. How can they be better than a teacher’s explanations and the practice and tests that follow? Playing computer games even at school? It’s too much already!
Although a huge number of adults and parents, like their children, play PixWords or Candy Crush on their phones, tablets or computers on the way to work, computer games are still perceived as leading to an anti-social way of life and are associated with time spent in dark rooms, aggressive behavior and dependence. From this point of view, learning by gaming doesn’t sound like the best option.
On the other hand, we have to admit that there are some things that can’t be taught, or that can’t be easily taught in conventional ways. For example, video games force us to improve our skills. To advance through a game, you first have to “learn”. In Half Life 2 (a first-person shooter game), the player regularly faces puzzles that require an understanding of physics. If you fail to solve them, you can’t advance.
Books don’t stop you accessing other chapters without knowledge of previous content — you can always just skip to the end. CDs won’t stop playing and ask you to prove how well you’ve understood the text and music. If you want to play, you have to get better!
Of course, video games should complement traditional learning methods, rather than replace them. They can help student gamers to understand concepts better and to develop their mind and abilities, with each genre having its own unique advantages.
Quick and Smart
Take action games, for example. A 2014 study showed that first-person shooters improve eyesight, hand-eye coordination and reflexes and accelerate learning. Players were able to distinguish shades of colors better and noticed finer details than the control group. They also learned faster.
Another study from 2010 showed that gamers made decisions 25% faster and with the same precision as non-gamers. These changes also affect gamers’ real lives.
Surgeons, pilots, police officers, brokers, drivers and people in difficult situations can all benefit from skills acquired this way.
The genre of action games also includes logic games, such as the popular Angry Birds or Cut the Rope. Scientists from Nanyang Technological University analyzed changes in the abilities of players of four different logic games and were surprised by the results. Players of Cut the Rope, for example, adapted to new situations one third faster, focused better, eliminated various distractions with greater ease and were also able to multitask more efficiently compared to the control group.
These abilities are particularly useful in our fast-paced world!
My Better Self
Role-playing games (RPGs) such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto V transport players to different worlds full of magic and sci-fi with different cultures and rules. Studies show that these types of games can successfully develop imagination, creativity and problem-solving skills. Furthermore, in games where players choose their own avatar, they may elect to choose a better image of themselves and improve their self-esteem through this avatar — both in the game as well as in the real world. Many RPGs can be played by a significant number of people (even thousands) simultaneously, which teaches gamers to work naturally in a team or hierarchical structure and to apply economic rules (e.g. when players trade resources with each other).
Being a good team player is a virtue that is highly appreciated by employers in larger companies. A healthy level of self-confidence and the ability to solve complex problems are also very useful skills to possess.
In real-time strategy (RTS) games such as Starcraft, Age of Empires or Civilization, players build their own civilization and try to defeat others or overcome artificial intelligence. Managing their own city or country requires players to monitor their resources and soldiers and to use both efficiently. In most RTS games, players have to pay attention to their own units and resources as well as their enemies while fighting them — all under time pressure.
The average RTS player clicks between 50 and 200 times per minute, with professionals clicking up to 600 times per minute. It’s no wonder these players are skilled at multitasking and rapidly processing sound and visual information. This can be used elsewhere, too, such as when organizing a household, department, company, etc.
The final category, sports games, has already been studied extensively by scientists. In one study, elderly people played racing games. As well as enjoying the game, participants improved their ability to multitask and drive not only virtually, but also in their own car.
What About School?
However, the question of how to incorporate games into education remains. First attempts have already been made. One school in Sweden used the game Minecraft in a city planning class. Students had to build their own city, providing, among other things, electricity and a water supply. In many countries, math and physics teachers have already started to use the game Angry Birds, while biology students have been learning through Spore, a game about evolution. It’s not just about school, either. Game developers in New Zealand have created a game called SPARX and tested its effects on teenagers suffering from depression. In many cases, the game has proven to be as efficient as traditional conversations with psychologists — sometimes, it’s even more efficient.
When it comes to using games in education, the question is not “if”, but “when and how”.
Bejjanki, V. R, Zhang, R., Li, R., Pouget, A., Shawn Green, C., Lu, Z.-L. & Bavelier, D. (November 10, 2014) Action video game play facilitates the development of better perceptual templates. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/
Oei, A. C. and Patterson, M. D. (2014) Playing a puzzle video game with changing requirements improves executive functions. Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 37. 216–228
Daniel Wedenig: Virtual Teachers: How Video Games Soon Assist Education. State University of New York, Empire State College, 2015.