Educational Video Games: Why They Might Actually Work

Hello all! Last week I promised a Science Fiction Problems, but when I saw this article, I was too jazzed about it to hold off. So, here’s my take on an exciting trend in video games, and how it might be used to solve some of the major problems now faced in the education of our children.

They’re Fun And Educational?

MathBlaster Episode One

Having had an aversion to all things Mathamatic, I would always just end up turning down the difficulty and playing games like this without really learning anything

The idea of educational video games has been around almost since the medium’s invention, but there have been very few that have bridged the gap from Educational Toy to Video Game in their own right. From Mathblaster to The Typing of the Dead, educational video games have been pretty much just a dressing for what kids are already learning in school. If kids are already bored in math class, they aren’t going to be any more excited about a game about math, or any other topic for that matter.

Educational video games require an intention and determination on the part of the player (or the teacher or parent) to learn through the game. Video games are usually played for entertainment, whereas educational games are played in order to learn- because of this distinction, the usual flaws and lack of quality seen in edu-games are overlooked, because the game itself is merely a vehicle, and in many cases, the “fun” of the game relies almost solely on the player’s interest in the subject. These games can be a way to sharpen a student’s skills or knowledge in a subject, but it’s very unlikely that kids would play it simply for enjoyment. Why would they when they have the purely explosion-and-bullet-based entertainment seen in the latest AAA console shooter ready for them as soon as they’re done with their Social Studies project on the American Revolution?

In practice, kids get their school work finished ASAP so they can have more time to play video games (if they have them, obviously). Typically, if parents find this to be a problem, they will either force their kids to play educational games instead or eliminate video game access completely. It seems that no matter how much fun the edu-game packaging tells you it is, kids will opt for the real stuff any day, given the choice.

Are video games and education forever at war? Well, what if they worked together, building on the strengths of both?

Code Hero: For the Aspiring Software Developer in Your Family!

codehero splash

Every action in the game is performed through the use of programming code, and various puzzles can only be solved by writing scripts on the fly

Now I know what some of you are thinking: yes, in an ideal world kids would just want to learn so very much, and would require no extra motivation except the joy of cramming more education into their sponge-like minds. However, as we all know, this is not the case for the majority of kids. Good teachers always try to engage the minds of their students in interesting and creative ways, but not only are they battling the negative stigmas of childrens’ peers, but often the influences in the home they cannot affect. The deck is stacked against teachers as they attempt to make kids actually care about their education.

While I happen to believe that education is undervalued in our society and that not all people are capable of attaining academic heights, I also believe that for some time now we’ve been far behind the curve of technology in what tools we utilize in the classroom, ignoring some of our best resources for reaching an apathetic generation with the joys of learning and the satisfaction of mastery.

Enter Code Hero: a game that kids (and many adults) would actually like to play, that teaches them skills that are instantly transferable the real world, and potentially, to a career.

Having taken two college-level courses in C++, I think I can say with authority that unless it’s really your thing, programming is really dry, complicated, frustrating stuff. I know I know, I’m supposed to be the resident tech guru and science buff and everything, but If I ever have to debug ONE MORE 200-line code, my brain will explode in flames out of my ears. If I had had the opportunity to learn even just the basics through a game like this, however, I think I might have a different opinion about the field:

This is not a lecture series on Javascript. Its a video game in its own right, yet the skills learned in order to beat it can be immediately used (on the very same computer) to write in programming code- something done in several well-paying careers. If anything, this game could inspire otherwise disinterested students to pursue a career in something they had never even considered before, and there’s no reason why the same couldn’t be done for Mathematics, History, Philosophy, English- take your pick. There are applications for any subject you can think of.

Many skills and subjects in school are most easily learned through  interractivity. This is why elementary school teachers use songs and funny rhymes to stick spelling and math into their students’ brains, and why in college, small class sizes are preferred. Simply talking at a huge group of students is a recipe for blank stares and drooping eyelids. If a teacher wants his students to be engaged with his subject, he must first make his teaching an interactive experience- and where interactivity is concerned, video games are king. There is no other medium that can be as immersive and compelling while still requiring active participation and complete concentration from its participants. While I’m not saying they should replace lectures,  if properly utilized, video games could revolutionize education for the better.

I’ve already talked about the concept of Gamification in the workplace, but these same benefits can be applied to education, augmenting teacher’s efforts to engage students and stripping away much of the drudgery that those students despise. Learning can be fun, and by using carefully-crafted video game, teachers can diminish the unwillingness of students to take advantage of the education available to them. While there is a delicate balance that must be struck to ensure that the education does not suffer while still remaining an engaging experience, not only is it possible for students to learn complex skills (like programming) through video games, it’s already being done.

That’s all for this week! Until next time, who here thinks I’m out of line for hoping this trend continues? C’mon, I want some raging academics here, front and center!

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About erikthereddest

I'm a Masters student in English, and I love technology and Science Fiction. I am refining and enhancing my (admittedly novice) writing talents under the sage advice of my friends here at Lantern Hollow Press, and with the great many books I am reading from the best authors I can find.

Posted on August 31, 2011, in Educational Resources, Erik Marsh, Inspiration, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teaching and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I think that educational gaming is best with really young victims. Ones that are too young to understand that learning isn’t fun. I know that it can be done. My two-and-a-half year old brother has recently taught himself the alphabet with one of those annoying talking alphabet toys. He has even learned to write the letters because the toy gives intsructions for that as well.

    If we just start all kids out with only educational toys and games then they’ll never need to know that fun doesn’t have to be educational. *Mwahahahahaa*

  2. Mathblasters!!!

    I’m actually quite fond of typing games, myself. Learning to type was much more fun when you had to race to type the words on the little bugs before the lizard ate them… good times…

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