Play is the highest form of research, Einstein allegedly said. Today play also happens in video games, and educators have started looking at their potential as a medium for learning. In this video we learn about the 3 dimensions of video game design, 4 things games can teach us, and 5 video games that are great for learning — one of which is played at Harvard business school.
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“Play is the highest form of research”, Einstein allegedly said. Today, play also happens in video games, and teachers use them in class or for homework. For this video we teamed up with the folks at G2A — the world’s largest marketplace for games — to learn about the 3 dimensions of game design, 4 things games can potentially teach us, and 5 video games that are great for learning — one of which is played at Harvard business school.
The 3 dimensions of video game design
First, the 3 dimensions of video game design:
Games typically range from simple to complex, they can be played in a single or a multiplayer mode, and can be played collaboratively or competitively.
We can divide games along the spectrum of simple to complex and non-social to social. Simple single player games include puzzles and jump and run games like Super Mario. Complex non-social games include the shooters like Far Cry or simulations like Simcity. Then there are simple multiplayer games like Guitarhero or Need for Speed and games that are complex and social such as Halo, Minecraft, or Among Us. Games can be competitive, cooperative, or both. Complex multiplayer games are usually the most effective for learning.
The 4 things games can teach us
Now, onto the 4 things games can teach us:
Video games can increase our cognitive abilities, boost our motivation, make us aware of our emotions, and strengthen our social skills. Games can increase cognition, by strengthening particular areas of our brain. One meta-analysis showed that video games effectively teach mental rotation abilities and that such learning can be transferred to the real world.
Logic and mathematical thinking can also be effectively learned through specific video games. Shooting games, for example, often train our understanding of relations among objects in space better than regular high school programs.
Games can boost our motivation and warm us up for learning. Feedback loops that adjust to one’s abilities keep players within what Vygotsky called the “zone of proximal development”. And as we learn that we advance through the process of trying, failing, and doing, we can develop a growth mindset. Some of the confidence we gain through games can be transferred to other aspects of life.
There are emotional benefits and some studies even report a causal relationship between playing video games and an improved mood. This makes sense, being that according to Uses and Gratifications Theory, most of us seek diverse forms of media to manage our mental state. Putting the books aside for a short game break can therefore enhance our emotional state. One study reported that gamers often experience high levels of stress, and as a result, learn how to manage their emotions.
There can be social benefits as we form new relationships. In some games we need to learn who to trust, how to communicate and when to take the lead. Video games that are designed to reward cooperation, promote prosocial skills particularly well. One longitudinal study found that children who played more prosocial games at the beginning of the school year were more likely to exhibit helpful behaviors later on in that year.
The 5 games that are great for learning
Finally, let’s look at 5 games that deliver powerful learning experiences:
Re-Mission is a video game that teaches sick children how to deal with cancer. In the game, the children control a nanobot that shoots cancer cells and manages the side effects of the treatment. A randomized controlled trial showed that children who played Re-Mission significantly increased adherence to the treatment protocol and cancer-related knowledge. The game has since helped hundreds of thousands of young patients.
The game Minecraft promotes creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving through trial and error. Players build their own world and alongside apply math, and learn about shapes and geometry. Some do electrical engineering and build machines that run in the virtual worlds and others explore human history. Its education edition gives teachers special control and access to a wide catalog of lessons.
In Democracy players get to know the challenges of being a politician. They learn the basics of economics and discover how policies affect real people. They have to deal with difficult issues like immigration and unemployment and then still try to win the majority support in the next election.
The app Brainquake allows students to learn math in a playful way and without using symbolic language. Controlled experiments showed improved math scores by 20%, when third graders play the game for just 10 minutes per day, 3 days a week, for a month. The game was developed with the help of the popular math teacher Keith Devlin. Its education edition allows teachers to monitor students’ progress and creativity
Harvard Root Beer Game
The so-called Harvard Root Beer Game is a team-based business simulation in which players manage a factory, a distributor, a wholesaler, or a retailer of root beer. At the beginning of the game the root beer isn’t popular, but then it becomes a big hit. Each player now needs to decide what to do as they examine inventory, anticipate demand, and write orders. The game is played at top business schools because it teaches the importance of open communication and teamwork.
What do you think?
What about you? What do you think about the up and downsides of playing video games for learning? And have you ever learned anything in a video game that was useful in real life? If you want to learn more about the topic, the people at G2A have developed a free online course specially designed for teachers.
Check out the G2A Academy: free online course for teachers to use video games in classrooms www.g2a.co/academy.
- Wuzzit Trouble: The Influence of a Digital Math Game on Student Number Sense – original study
- The Benefits of Playing Video Games – original study
Video games don’t cause violence… or so it would appear. Read all about it in this recent meta-analysis as summarized in The Guardian.
Why not try incorporating some of the games mentioned above in your own class and let us know if you see any benefits! Here are the links to the games we recommend: