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Can Games Be Used As Educational Tools?

Library of alexandria

Recently Ubisoft released a free update for Assassin’s Creed Origins: The Ancient Egypt Discovery Tour. With this new content, we are now able to take guided tours through ancient Egypt and I just LOVED this concept of learning through the powerful medium of videogames.

I’ve already touched upon this aspect of videogames in my article on why we play videogames, listing some possible applications:

Increase motor skills (games on the Wii, Xbox Kinect, playstation move etc)

Language (I’ve personally learned how to read, write and speak English, purely by playing Role Playing Games)

Hand-Eye coordination: Surgeons often practice their precision by playing videogames

Organization: perform tasks in a structured manner (doing quests for example)

Creativity: building constructions in MineCraft or a house in The Sims.

Driving, Flying: Realistic sims (especially when played with steering wheel or joysticks) can give people a first simulated experience before really getting behind the wheel or in a cockpit

Physics: Which action causes what reaction?

I’ve clearly forgotten to include a few topics here, such as history, math, religion, geography… But in this article I intend to explore instead the added value the medium can have compared to the regular methods applied in education.

Interaction

As you may all have realised at some point in your education, when you write something down it somehow makes it easier to remember. I never actually had to bring cheat-sheets into an exam because the simple act of writing them was enough for me to memorise everything on it.

Similarly, interacting with the game world or seeing things play out before your eyes may be a key trigger for your brain to mark this newly acquired information as “interesting” or “memorable”. It’s one thing to hear a history teacher talk about what happened in ancient Egypt, but when you actually get to walk around in that world and see the buildings, people and events  with your own eyes. It just “sticks”.

Motivation

Getting motivated may be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome for students when it comes to studying. It’s hard to imagine that students will be interested in ALL the topics they have to learn about in school. And when you’re not interested, how are you supposed to feel any kind of drive to get this information into your cranium? The only reward you can possibly get are good grades but this isn’t always enough and is often too far off (exams at the end of a semester) to get you into it during the rest of the year.

Making the studying more interactive (see above) and having some kind of a reward system, like achievements, could remedy that. We all like to be told “well done!” and having a positive affirmation just gives us that tiny bit of oxytocin we need to press on.

countto10

Games can also be used to visually represent how far along we have progressed in a certain topic and seeing the summit of the mountain can be just what you need to give it that final push. If you for example see that your at step 9/10 in certain workflow, and there is a reward for reaching step 10. How could you resist?

*I’ve heard China is looking into gamifying more than just education and is interested in the applications into everyday working life. Going as far as scoring how good a citizen you are.

Fun

God forbid we actually start enjoying what we have to be learning about, but that could be exactly what is needed to reinvigorate how students feel about school. If we can investigate what makes us enjoy playing videogames, it doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch to implement those same aspects into our education. We constantly see how players try to experiment in games like Grand Theft Auto or Minecraft, they want to push the game’s engine to its limits or use trial and error to see if they can make a jump that shouldn’t technically be possible.

Physics based games like Portal could be used to teach players about gravity, geometry or both.

Portal Math

it’s a poor mock-up, but you get the gist.

Replacing Homework

Taking the above two into account, they can be combined to replace boring homework. Gamers everywhere seek to spend as little time as possible into their homework so they can max out their available game-time, but what if they can somehow merge into each other? If you Always think to yourself that there aren’t enough hours in a day, one possible solution is to check two of your boxes at the same time.

tokugawa

Mom: Get off the playstation! You: But I’m learning about Tokugawa and Feudal Japan!

Learning new languages while playing.

Have any of you played Final Fantasy X? One of its interesting mechanics is that you could gradually learn the Al Bhed language character per character. You could use a similar method the other way around as well: once a player is familiar with your game, you could gradually replace words with those of a foreign language. The player could then use memory and context to figure out what that word means and thus learn a new language one word at a time.

al bhed

Final Fantaso

In fact, the game itself can be enough of a motivation to learn a new language in the first place. Playing videogames and watching movies growing up is the sole reason I can read, write and speak English today. Games aren’t often translated into Dutch (I’m Belgian), so I was forced to learn or miss out on all the fun.

(Friendly) Competition

Teachers could potentially build upon the achievement system I mentioned earlier or even use some kind of leveling mechanic to show how far students have come. At the same time they would see how they compare to their fellow students. Not only can this serve as an extra motivator to try harder, teachers would also see who’s falling behind and if they’re in need of some extra guidance. Similar to how some online RPG’s build balanced parties, they could also mix and match students to balance out each other’s shortcomings or build upon friendly rivalries to get them to “do better”.

MMORPG

Healer, Tank, Ranged DPS… We’re good to go!

Pitting different class teams against each other could also improve social skills and team communication.

Replacing Paper Exams

It’s not enough for our schools to teach you whatever you need to be taught, they also need to test your knowledge so you can prove your knowledge and award you a grade. Experiencing the final exam as a sort of game could potentially alleviate the stress felt by the student. For the teacher it would also potentially reduce the workload of correcting all the tests, which is a likely reason for seeing an increase in computer-based test-taking.

I would also advocate letting the students re-attempt a failed exam sooner. When playing a videogame, if you fail you can just respawn and try it again. It’s a medium that doesn’t only reward smarts or skills, but also persistance. If players would be forced to wait a few weeks before trying a failed challenge again, the momentum would be lost.

Closing words

It’s been an interesting challenge thinking about all the possible applications games could offer the eduation world. I’m sure I’ve missed a few (obvious) things, so I would love to hear from you all in the comments or on twitter. Who knows, we may even be putting down the groundworks for how schools work in the future!

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Robby Bisschop
Belgian, male, born in 1987
I love videogames (mostly RPGs), anime, movies and Magic The Gathering.
About the author

Robby Bisschop

Belgian, male, born in 1987 I love videogames (mostly RPGs), anime, movies and Magic The Gathering.