Video games and education: Two things that were once thought to be polar opposites, but not any more. From the rise of big games created to entertain the player such as Minecraft and Fortnite, a different genre of games was also created. Educational video games ( EVGs) were made with the intention of allowing kids to learn in a fun way that made them want to keep coming back over and over again. Still, do the benefits of introducing educational video games outweigh the negative effects?
Ever since the first well known EVG called “Logo Programming” was released in 1967, many others followed. Oregon Trail, ClueFinder, and Brain Age were all EVGs that were made to both teach and entertain the player. All these games mainly only taught one subject and were originally released on home computers. Although many people played and enjoyed these games, the problem was that there was no proof that these games were more efficient than old-fashioned teaching methods. Many of the previously mentioned EVGs either weren’t very good or focused too much on the experience rather than the educational value.
There is still debate about the benefits and drawbacks of EVGs. EVGs do, in fact, have many benefits. It has been proven that these games improve learning, and some teachers have reported seeing better test scores as a result of introducing this new teaching strategy. Plus, by allowing kids to play EVGs, they are able to apply information into real life situations. For example, in the game “Court Quest”, students are presented with randomly generated court cases, and the student has to decide what type of court they should go to. Another side benefit of using EVGs is that it can also be extremely beneficial for people with ADHD and dyslexia, allowing them to focus to a greater degree. Teachers often integrate EVGs into their lessons, which in turn can result in increased student participation as well as social and emotional learning, and they can motivate students to take initiative and perform risks. In fact, a study conducted on a game known as Kahoot found that 88% of the students who played the game both had fun and learned. Marci Rothman, a 7th grade teacher at Scarsdale Middle School, stated that “there are great benefits to many games because of the student engagement and investment”. Due to this effect, EVGs are extremely helpful when used and applied correctly.
Now that we’ve thoroughly discussed the benefits of playing EVGs, it’s time to take a look at the negative repercussions. Let’s start off by listing some of the general pitfalls EVGs blunder into. Sometimes the difficulty of the actual game is too high, making people not want to play, give up, or get distracted by something else. This, of course, is not the goal of EVGs. Brain Zhao, an 8th grader who has some history playing various EVGs, says that when playing, he became “distracted from the goal of actually learning…after which [he played] it like a video game”. At times, he even set the difficulty of the game lower in order to progress further. Another possible outcome of the EVG being too hard is that the student gets frustrated and keeps playing the game over and over. By doing so, the student would experience both physical and mental negative effects. If a student plays said game for long periods of time without making much progress, he or she may develop low self-esteem and aggressive behavior, along with neck aches, back aches, repetitive strain injuries, eyestrain, headaches, and fatigue from the constant playing. Meanwhile, some games try to cram way too much information in, which makes the game cluttered and lose its real lesson. On the other hand, some games don’t have enough information, which means little to nothing is learned after it’s played. Finally, some researchers believe that the way EVGs are run prevents students from retaining much information.
Let us now take this article back to the present and consider how EVGs can be used during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic raged on and drowned the schools in chaos, teachers were forced to resort to online learning, which meant a lot more online games/activities for the kids. In fact, many teachers have been implementing games designed for fun, rather than for learning, into their courses. For example, Kevin Péloquin, a history teacher from Montreal, took his students on a trip into Assassin’s Creed, a game with both an education mode and a research-based recreation of ancient Greece. Other educators are doing similar things with games like Minecraft and Roblox, turning a game originally intended for fun into one for teaching. This resulted in tons of engagement from students who were already playing these games and found them much more interesting than a normal lecture. Plus, most of the games mentioned also allow teachers to have a level of control over the students in case anyone gets too distracted. Still, many students are abusing these privileges, either playing these games when they’re not supposed to or doing something they’re not supposed to in the game. Although there are admittedly many benefits of EVGs, they’re always a risk to use.
In the end, there really is no “right” answer to whether or not EVGs are worth the benefits. In many ways, they can help bring a better form of learning to the classroom. However, they also can be distractions. It’s really up to how educators employ them that determines the result they get. They can be fun, interactive, and sometimes dangerous. If all teachers and game companies were able to finally combine and create a way for all kids to learn in a fun and interactive way, that might be the thing to finally make some kids love learning.