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Educational games are a form of instructional media and are are games explicitly designed with educational purposes, or which have incidental or secondary educational value. All types of games may be used in an educational environment. Educational games are games that are designed to teach people about certain subjects, expand concepts, reinforce development, understand an historical event or culture, or assist them in learning a skill as they play. Game types include board, card, and video games.

Video gamesEdit

Main article: Educational video game

With the increase and availability of technological devises, there has been a shift in what types of games people play. Video or electronic gaming has become more widely used than traditional board games. Barab (2009) defines conceptual play as "a state of engagement that involves (a) projection into the role of character who, (b) engaged in a partly fictional problem context, (c) must apply conceptual understandings to make sense of, and ultimately, transform the context".[1] The goal of such play spaces is to have the “gamer” engage in the narrative while learning cognitive and social skills. The ability to immerse oneself in the gaming process facilitates “empathetic embodiment” which occurs when a player learns to identify with the character they have chosen for the game and the virtual environment of the game (Barab, 2009).[2]

Game based learningEdit

Game based learning (GBL) is a type of game play that has defined learning outcomes. Generally, game based learning is designed to balance subject matter with gameplay and the ability of the player to retain and apply said subject matter to the real world. Educational institutions along with corporations of all sizes utilize game based e-learning programs to improve soft skills and workforce training.


In his classical essay, "Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man", Friedrich Schiller discusses play as a force of civilization, which helps humans rise above their instincts and become members of enlightened communities. He states that "humans are only fully human when they play". While the text is limited by the author's beliefs in concepts such as freedom and beauty, it nevertheless sets the stage for Johan Huizinga's classical study, Homo Ludens.


According to Richard N. Van Eck, there are three main approaches to creating software that provides cognitive growth for the gamer. These three approaches are: building games from scratch created by educators and programmers; integrate commercial off-the-shelf (COTS); and creating games from scratch by the students. The most time and cost effective approach to designing these educational games is to incorporate COTS games into the classroom with the understanding of the learning outcomes the instructor has for the course.[3] This requires the teacher to buy into the positive results of using digital games for education. It also requires teachers to have adequate self-efficacy concerning the use of these games and their technology. The students usually have high amounts of self-efficacy in usage of digital games, while the lack of confidence teachers have in incorporating the digital games usually results in less effective educational use of the games.[citation needed]

Games often have a fantasy element that engages players in a learning activity through narrative or storylines. Educational video games can motivate children and allow them to develop an awareness of consequentiality.[4] Children are allowed to express themselves as individuals while learning and engaging in social issues. Today's games are more social, with most teens playing games with others at least some of the time and can incorporate many aspects of civic and political life.[5] Students that participate in educational video games can offer deeper, more meaningful insights in all academic areas.[6][citation needed] The success of game-based learning strategies owes to active participation and interaction being at the center of the experience, and signals that current educational methods are not engaging students enough[7][citation needed] Experience with and affinity for games as learning tools is an increasingly universal characteristic among those entering higher education and the workforce.[8] Game-based learning is an expansive category, ranging from simple paper-and-pencil games like word searches all the way up to complex, massively multiplayer online (MMO) and role-playing games.[9] The use of collaborative game-based role-play for learning provides an opportunity for learners to apply acquired knowledge and to experiment and get feedback in the form of consequences or rewards, thus getting the experiences in the "safe virtual world".[10]

The built-in learning process of games is what makes a game enjoyable. The progress a player makes in a game is through learning. It is the process of the human mind grasping and coming to understand a new system. The progress of understanding a new concept through gaming makes an individual feel a sense of reward whether the game is considered entertainment (Call of Duty) or serious (FAA-approved flight simulator). Well-designed games that motivate players are what make them ideal learning environments.[citation needed] Real-world challenges are easier faced within a game containing effective, interactive experiences that actively engage people in the learning process. In a successful game-based learning environment, choosing actions, experiencing consequences, and working toward goals allows players to make mistakes through experimentation in a risk-free environment.[6] Games have rules and structure and goals that inspire motivation. Games are interactive and provide outcomes and feedback. Most games also have problem solving situations that spark creativity.[11]

Identification with the character within the video game is an important factor in the learning potential of the gamer. Some of the electronic games allow the gamer to create an avatar that is designed and “owned” by the gamer. This character is an expression of the human creating the virtual character.[6] This has opened a new set of scientific possibilities. The virtual world can be used as a laboratory. The relationships and space within the games can simulate complex societies and relationships without having to truly participate. This application of an avatar in not limited to simulation exercises.[12] According to Bainbridge, interviews and ethnographic research could be conducted within the reality of the game space.[6] This could include experiments in social psychology and cognitive science. The fact that game creators and gamers are wanting new experiences within the games, the introduction of “experiments” could increase the level of play and engagement.[6]

Neurological contextEdit

Thaigi states that games have five major characteristics: conflict, control, closure, contrivance, and competency. Games encourage active learning, interaction between multiple people, encourages team work, and also provide a free environment that allows for skill enhancement. Games based learning provides versatility for more than one learning style, and also can affect cognitive and psychomotor skills. While learning through games can be very effective, they can become a distraction, causing them to become too focused on the game and not on learning.[13][14]

"…It cannot be denied that a great deal of learning does happen in games. Computer games that are considered “good”(i.e. popular and highly rated) already provide information in various formats, although the preference in most games is for information to be visually presented. By providing information in multiple formats (visual, textual, auditory, etc.), players cannot only choose a style that matches their own preference, but they can also practice their skills in others, and sometimes they do this even without realizing it.[15]

"By design, good games support the approaches of concrete learners through a myriad of feedback mechanisms: visual, auditory, textual, progress charts, etc. while abstract learners can ignore which ever feedback mechanisms they choose – often by simply switching them off. Abstract learners can develop theories and test them out within games in ways not feasible in real life. The “reset” button remains available to both whenever they get into trouble.[15]


Traditionally, technology used in school operates at the base level. They usually make up case studies designed to introduce students to certain technologies in an effort to prepare them for a future major assignment that requires the aforementioned technology. In the future, technology and games are expected to be used in simulation environments to simulate real world issues. In the professional sector, such as flight training, simulations are already used in an effort to prepare pilots for training before actually going out into planes. These training sessions are used to replicate real life stresses without the risk factor associated with flying.

Before deciding how to use game-based learning, the trainer must first determine what they would like the trainees to learn. A trainer that fails to focus training around a central idea runs the risk of using a game that fails to connect with the learners. To prevent this, tailor the material to the demographic(age group, familiarity, educational pre-text)so that the material is neither too difficult for, nor too familiar to the learner.[16] Gathering ideas from children early in the design process has yielded useful insights into what children want in technology in general or in a specific type of application.[17] Children's early involvement in requirements gathering has revealed clues about gender differences in preferences related to technology, children's navigation skills, ways of presenting textual information, application-specific content-related preferences, the variety of elements to be included in user interfaces and their structures, and children's desire to personalize their applications.[17] Multiplayer role playing games (MMO’s) provide opportunities for players to improve such skills as, “complex learning, thinking, and social practices”[18]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). ISBN 978-1-4039-6169-3


  1. p. 991
  2. Barab, S., Scott, B., Siyahhan, S., Goldstone, R., Ingram-Goble, A., Zuiker, S., & Warren, S. (2009).Transformational play as a curricular scaffold: Using videogames to support science education. Journal of Science Education Technology,18, 305-320.
  3. Van Eck, R. (2006). Digital game-based learning: It’s not just the digital natives who are restless… Educase Review, 41,2, 1-16.
  4. "Making Learning Fun: Quest Atlantis, A Game Without Guns" by Barab, Thomas, Dodge, Carteaux, Tuzun
  5. "Teens, Video Games, and Civics" by Lenhart, Pew Internet Project
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Bainbridge, W. (2007). The scientific research potential of virtual worlds. Science, 317, 27, 471-476.
  7. Green, C., & Bavelier, D.(2012). Learning, attentional control, and action video games. Current Biology, 22.R197-R206.
  8. '2009 Horizon Report' by The New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. URL accessed on 2013-05-02.
  9. 2010 Horizon Report: The K12 Edition. URL accessed on 2013-05-02.
  10. "Game-based Learning or Game-based Teaching?" by Paul Pivec
  11. Shearer, James D.. Development of a Digital Game-based Learning Best Practices Checklist. URL accessed on 2013-05-02.
  12. Kim, B., Park, H., & Baek, Y. (2009). Not just for fun, but serious strategies: Using meta-cognitive strategies in game-based learning. Computers and Education, 52, 800-810.
  13. Deirdre Bonnycastle. Promoting Active Learning Using Games. URL accessed on 2012-06-04.
  14. Training Games. URL accessed on 2012-06-04.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Becker, K., Games and Learning Styles. Special Session onComputer Games and Learning., 2012
  16. How To Teach Using Games. URL accessed on 2013-05-02.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Exploring Children's Requirements for Game-Based Learning Environments. URL accessed on June 4, 2012.
  18. Barab, 2009, p. 990


  1. Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens. Beacon Press (June 1, 1971). ISBN 0-8070-4681-7
  2. Huizinga, Johan (1955). Homo ludens; a study of the play-element in culture, Boston: Beacon Press.

External linksEdit


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