You’ve probably noticed the video game industry taking over the world. Digital games are now ubiquitous: they’re on our laptops, our tablets and cell phones, even on planes. In 2013 over 58% of Americans played video games and it’s predicted that in 2015 worldwide video game market revenue will reach $70.1 billion.
While video games look set to become the most dominant form of entertainment on the planet, they’re also on the rise in the field of education. Video games are exciting, accessible, versatile and challenging, and can be easily tailored or adapted to align with educational goals. Most importantly, they provide children with a virtual arena in which they can apply their learning and immediately see the effects, encouraging cooperation, problem solving, communication and critical thinking.
Video games tailored to a specific topic (e.g. mathematics) provide an excellent platform for exploring the subject matter. But good video games – regardless of subject matter – should also impart a number of valuable life skills that can be applied to almost any field. These are the best kinds of lessons: the ones kids learn without even knowing they’re learning.
In the artificial world of the computer game, children must take responsibility for their own learning. Though teachers and parents can guide and help from the real world, within the game the student is in control of every action. What are your goals and how will you achieve them? In what order will certain actions be performed? How will your decisions affect the game environment? Being responsible for these decisions can help to increase a child’s investment in their own education and therefore maximize learning.
A video game’s open environment encourages children to take risks and explore ideas that they otherwise might be afraid to voice or put into practice. While the consequences of failure in a video game can be annoying, it’s rarely as embarrassing or disheartening as a failure in the classroom: all you need to do is start over. Reports have shown that playing video games can shift the mindset of students away from merely looking for answers and towards experimentation with the learning process itself.
An increase in confidence is the natural result of both risk-taking and responsibility. A video game allows children to experience success and master skills in a safe environment, which can then translate into a more confident application of those skills in the real world. Sports games, for example, have been shown to impact positive self-esteem – and, by extension, encourage players to get involved in real sports.
Games-based learning often demands that students possess strong social skills to succeed. Communication and cooperation are all vital parts of many video games, and it’s been noted that a community of collaboration tends to develop in classrooms where educational video games are used. Via the internet, students are also given the opportunity to play with children all across the world, exposing them to new personalities, cultures and schools of thought.
Even non-educational games have been shown to potentially increase mental agility and strategic thinking in players. A study by two London universities found that fast-paced strategy games such as StarCraft enhance cognitive ability, promoting the ability to “think on the fly and learn from past mistakes.” This in turn improves decision making, versatile thinking and mental celerity.
Nick Nedeljkovic is a freelance writer and blogger from Sydney. With a love of learning and more degrees than he can afford, he’s a passionate advocate for education in all its forms.