Level Up Part I: How Video Games are Shaping Education

In the first part of the Level Up series, Starr examines how video games have leaked into modern culture to influence society. First up? Education.

Move aside teachers, there is a new educator in town. Making strides in a sector that normally looks down upon it, video games are becoming increasingly popular with educators to help students comprehend and excel in subjects that they originally would have trouble with.

This isn’t a new concept however. Most of us have played Oregon Trail and Reading Rabbit in our elementary school years and learned what it took not to have our settlers die of dysentery, or followed the white rabbit that loved to read when we had troubles reading the passage on the screen. For the most part, what we learned stuck.  Now student s are playing games in the classroom aimed toward mathematics, science, and reading using the interactive visuals of pictures to solve a word problem or touring and labeling a virtual plant’s cellular structure.

It’s not just the K-12 students using this educational tool. Daycare centers that specialize in younger children (typically between the ages of 2-4) are using games and gaming sites such as ABC Mouse to teach the alphabet, numbers, and critical thinking skills. This not only helps develop their minds at a young age, but also potentially makes the children have a higher advantage going into kindergarten.

Many elementary teachers are developing curricula around Minecraft due to the variety of educational values in the game that helps with the cognitive and spatial growth of a child. It’s a good tool to help build reading skills with younger students (using inventor) and older students (wiki pages and strategy guides), math skills using the in-game crafting skills, writing skills with the Book and Quill to write game experiences and logs of their quests, and many more skills such as science, music, and social participation.


Another game educators are using is World of Warcraft. The MMORPG from Blizzard not only has many advantages in the classroom but are also important life skills as the student matures. Currency systems help students learn math and financial responsibility, the ability to learn up to 2 trades and then make items to trade teaches the importance of an economy and how working contributes to the survival of that economy, and learning how to work as a team to complete quests to develop teamwork and cooperation with peers outside of the virtual world.

According to the article, “Video Games in Education: Why They Should Be Used and How They Are Being Used” by Leonard A. Annetta, published in the Theory into Practice journal (2008), eleven different skills are being used and developed when gaming is used in the education sector. Play helps the capacity to experiment to solve problems. Performance is the ability to develop an identity for discovery. Simulation helps the ability to interpret processes of the real world. Appropriation is the ability to meaningfully sample media. Multitasking is the ability to change the focus from one thing to another when needed. Distributed Cognition is the ability to use tools to expand mental capacities. Collective Intelligence is the ability to compare known knowledge and compare them with notes to gain a common goal. Judgment is the ability to evaluate the credulity of a source. Transmedia Navigation is the ability to follow stories and information across different platforms. Networking is the ability to search and circulate information. Lastly, Negotiation is the ability to follow and comprehend different communities, perspectives and alternative cultural norms.


However, even if video games are being used for the betterment of our students, the concept is still drawing ire from many ant-video game groups. Many say that video games have no educational value in them at all, and others are apprehensive of gaming as an educational tool because it would “essentially” take place of physical textbooks, lectures, and different study types. The flaw in their criticisms is that they look at popular games that are aimed towards mature audiences (such as Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty) which if they know ESRB ratings, do not belong in most classrooms in K-12 schools. These games do have themes that are not suitable for younger audiences, but older students can use these games to learn important decision making skills that will help once they reach college or the workforce. Take Grand Theft Auto, for example. Anti-Game groups claim that it is violent and teaches kids how to be a sociopath killer. Good can be found in the games, however, as the players have to use their intuition and feelings to decide how to do quests and interactions with NPCs with better judgment. Also, using features like the bank in GTA as mentioned before with Minecraft, teaches financial responsibility and the value of a savings account when they earn money.

Are video games worth the precious time that teachers have in the classroom? I think the answer is clear: video games are not only for fun and relaxation, but also help students develop an interest in subjects that they are struggling at and life skills that are critical when they reach the age of maturity.