Recently, for the GEDI course, I read a piece titled What Video Games Have to Teach US by James Paul Gee. In the piece, Gee discusses video games and how they can be a useful tool for education. As an recreational gamer myself, I completely agree that games can teach us many things. However, many people would disagree. This disagreement stems from numerous studies that claim video games cause a variety of negative effects including aggressive behavior, poor academic performance, and promotion of poor values. Now I’m not saying that video games are free of deleterious effects, but I do believe that they can prove useful in an educational context.
When comparing video game-based education to traditional classroom education, the first noticeable difference is the level of engagement each evokes. While teaching in a classroom, the educator is focused on engaging the class as a whole rather than engaging the individual students. This makes it easy for students to disconnect and fall behind. Video games engage the player individually, allowing the content to be disseminated in a manner that’s catered to the individual. Additionally, traditional classes can be overwhelming-the vast amounts of information students receive, generally over extended periods of time, make it difficult to absorb and retain . Video games provide small amounts of information in relevant stages. The information provided in video games is pertinent to the to the tasks at hand versus information gained in the classroom, which is often time not applicable in the students’ lives.
Another benefit to video games is that they scale the content so that its appropriately challenging for the individual. For example, players just starting out are given challenges that, though difficult, are still able to be accomplished at their skill level. As the player’s skills develop, the challenges become more complex. Coincidentally, many games involve what’s called a “boss level” where players face off with a leveled challenge that they must pass in order to progress forward. The “boss level” is meant to gauge how well a player’s skills have developed. If they have developed appropriately, the player is deemed worthy enough to move on to increasingly more difficult levels where their skills will be furthur developed. In a classroom education setting, the content is doled out based off a timeline. This leads to students falling behind and never fully developing the skills needed to succeed in the class.
One of the most beneficial aspects video game education offers that classroom education does is the opportunity to fail. If you fail in a video game, it’s not the end of the world. Yes it is frustrating, but the game model allows the player to go back and attempt to succeed again. Since games are set in increments (i.e. levels), players don’t have to return back to the very beginning of the game if the fail. Instead, they return to a checkpoint, or worst case the beginning of a level, to develop the essential skills needed to attempt the leveling up once again. If you fail in a class, the repercussions are pretty detrimental to making timely progress. Failing a class means the student has to take it again, starting the class over from the beginning regardless of if they simply failed to develop a skill taught toward the end of the class. This is incredibly frustrating for the student and can often deter them from retaking the class. Alternatively, players who need to replay a video game level are not deterred- they even exhibit increased motivation to continue playing and developing their skills.
So in my opinion, video games have a lot to offer in the way of education that traditional classroom teaching cannot. The development of education-based video games can provide opportunities for students to engage in learning more successfully that they otherwise would in a classroom setting. I encourage educators to assess these useful tools and attempt to apply them in their teaching practices.