Skip to main content

Despite Reputation, Video Games Have Educational Value

Some video games are more than violent, they have literary and educational value.

Video games have a reputation for rotting young minds with their emphasis on weapons, violence, conflict and death. But some teachers and game designers say certain video games can have real educational value.

“Well-done games are literature," said Orange County-based video-game designer Liz Fiacco. "They’re amazing, and it’s just a different kind of a way to experience something.”

This new kind of literature can simulate whole new environments that students should be learning from, according to Bernie Dodge, professor of learning design and technology at San Diego State University.

“If we really want to prepare kids for this century, then I think there is a different kind of game required, it's more like a simulated experience, more like moving through an environment that you can't actually get to right here and now.”

Who is a Typical Gamer?

Imagine a typical video game player. Are you thinking of a feckless slack-jawed adolescent boy sitting in his bedroom stuffing his face with soda and chips, game controller in his mindlessly twitching hands, trying to kill zombies or aliens?

If you are, you're wrong.

According to the Entertainment Software Association:

  • The typical gamer is about 30.
  • 45 percent of all gamers are women.
  • 51 percent of Americans own a dedicated video game console. If you own one, you're just as likely to own two.

One example Dodge gave is how his son learned about solar systems through a video game, a virtual universe his young son used to effortlessly learn about astral physics.

“I watched him at age 4 or 5 intuitively figuring out what would make a stable solar system,” Dodge said.

And he had fun doing it.

“The teaching part and the fun part - there is no friction between them, they re-enforce each other,” Dodge said.

Fiacco agrees. She remembers learning about logic by playing the game the Logical Journey of the Zoombinis. She said that this game had a huge impact because “you never felt like you were being lectured to at any time. Everything was experimental. You would try things, you would fail at things, and you would learn the best practices through that kind of trial and error.”

Malik Forté is the video games editor for the extremely popular website Nerdist.com. He said he was a shy child and credits video games with helping him come out of his shell.

“Failure and rejection and things of that nature really used to scare me,” Forté said.

Failure is a big part of playing video games. Players can learn and test a game many times in a short while.

“You’re teaching in a moment and then testing it in the next moment. And testing it to greater and greater degrees as the game gets harder and harder,” said Fiacco.

Fotré said that learning the skills it takes to beat the game and learning about the game world is quite an academic accomplishment itself.

Parents and Video Games

The top five reasons why parents play, according to the Entertainment Software Association:

  • It's fun
  • They were asked to play
  • They see it as an opportunity to socialize with their child
  • It's a good chance to see what their kids are up to
  • They enjoy it too

This doesn’t mean video games can replace books. Forté thinks books require more imagination and that reading is “a chance for you to paint the picture for yourself. When you read a book, and you read about a character and how it’s being described, you envision that in your head.”

On the other hand, video games offer a probing experience that is unique each time it’s played, according to Fiacco.

“One player might feel angry at one moment, and another player might feel betrayed by that moment and disheartened, and there is really no way to predict that,” she said.

For Dodge, the individual experience of playing video games is where a lot of their educational value is.

“It has context, it has real behaviors, it has real assessment,” Dodge said. “It has immediate feedback, and it matters. It’s about stuff that matters outside those school walls.”

Dodge said kids also can learn skills like leadership and teamwork from games.

“The kinds of things that games like that can develop are not on the test. We all value them as parents. We all value them looking at the next generation and what we want them to look like,” Dodge said.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.