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Video Games and Education-Do they mix?

There is this stigma we have placed on video games.  Myths, and opinions that have been repeated as fact for decades. Perhaps it’s time to dig deeper, and find the truth for ourselves.  Could video games be the missing link to understanding in the classroom?

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What is Gamification?

As mentioned before in my post 5 Assessments That Will Rock Your Homeschool Curriculum, gamification is the hot new buzzword in education.  The concept of gamification, an idea of integrating game-based concepts in non-game contexts (Furdu 2017), into education was first introduced in 2002 by Nick Pelling.  It only just gained real traction in 2010.

We are no longer in the days of Little House On The Prairie, and though the smart board at the center of our room give us the illusion of far more technologically advanced education experience our curriculum as a whole still consists of the same tired rote practices.  “We are living in an era in which learners grew up as digital natives and have different learning styles, and new attitude to the learning process.” (Furdu, pg. 56, 2017)

Understanding the Experience

I have taken history classes since grammar school.   Also, I have learned the ins and outs of the Civil War from books I’ve read, papers I’ve written, lectures I’ve endured, creative projects I’ve completed. I even spent a couple of summers working as a docent at a Civil War museum.  The railroad was revolutionary is something I can recall repeating across papers, projects, and curated performances for tourists.  I repeated this phrase out of script and obligation rather than emphasis and understanding.

It was not until I played Railway Empire this past year the epiphany hit me, ‘wow the railroad was revolutionary.’  I knew it, but I didn’t understand it. 

This is a game that uses fictional characters based off characteristics of true railroad tycoons of the generation.  It lays out the map of the US as it stood at the infancy of the railroad industry.   With repeated game play for mastery, I was intricately involved in the booming development of cities from Baltimore to New Orleans. 

Creating a Want to Learn

I was able to fail and then try again to find what strategies of growth, spending, and development worked.  I was able to relive the revolution of travel and the iconic boom for an industry.  As a result I was able to gain an experiential understanding of the levity of the gambles, struggles, and risks the tycoons of the Industrial Revolution actually had to overcome.

This sparked in me a passionate curiosity.  In the year since I have felt eager, rather than obliged, to complete my masters level thesis on the leadership of Andrew Carnegie.  I have started independent research on the influence of other huge technological booms for industry as a whole.  I have applied that knowledge to develop my own independent ideas of innovation.  That being said, let’s breakdown the real benefits of bringing similar methods of gamification to our classroom.


The Benefits

What Motivates Your Student?

In the words of J. Lee & J. Hammer of Columbia University:  “understanding the role of gamification in education, means understanding under what circumstances game elements can drive learning behavior.”  And to do that we need to understand the driving motivators for our learners:

Yee (2006) identified three main motivational factors that entice people to play video games: (1) achievement, which includes satisfaction from advancing in the game, competing with others, and understanding game mechanics such as rules and systems; (2) social, which includes satisfaction from socializing, developing long-term relationships, and being part of teams; and (3) immersion, which includes satisfaction from discovering hidden objects in the game, role-playing and customization of virtual characters. (Barreto, 2017)

So consider for a moment the type of “gamer” your child is.

  • Games like Super Mario Bros. have visible levels, active maps, and various awards that easily engage the achievement-driven learner.
  • Games like Roboblox that allow for cooperative game play functions or a chat box for conversation has proven to rapidly lure in the social gamers.
  • Games like Minecraft, an immersive world developed by its players.  Understanding what motivates your player will help you in picking the games that will work to engage them.

Active Learning

John sat down to work on his math homework, a simple 10 equation worksheet on dividing fractions.  In class, the concept was confusing, and John is unsure as to whether or not he understood correctly.  Despite this, he completed all 10 equations anyway. 

Two days later the teacher hands back his assignment with a 0 scrawled across the top.  John had not mastered the concept, and now is two days behind his classmates in comprehension and practice.

Now, imagine if John could have completed the assignment on a computer game that gave immediate feedback when he got the first one wrong.   Now, John is able to reconcile his misunderstanding without the penalization of an altogether 0.  There is not so much stress on whether the answer is right or wrong.  Instead, John is able to independently explore and experiment for a deeper understanding of the concept with confidence.  And with immediate corrections, bad habits and confusion are less likely to form.

Better Learning Environment

What if we collected experience points over a grade book?  A gamified learning environment involves more play and less rigor.  Making learning fun is all we as educators have ever wanted. “A good gamification strategy will make participants more active and high levels of engagement will increase feedback and retention.” (Furdu, pg. 58, 2017)

What if the elements on the periodic table were an interactive map rather than a memorization table? What if math was more involved with a simulated realistic scenario?  Instead of complicated word problems or difficult to solve algebraic equations scrawled across our notes.  Some physics teachers have been known to use games like Angry Birds as a part of their curriculum.  What deeper level of understanding and conversation could come from the purpose and symbolism of Edgar Allan Poe if the student was allowed to experience the stories beyond words on a page?

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Types of Gaming

Standard Video Games

These are the games played on a console, computer, or phone app with classic controls.  Some great educational standard games include:

Active Video Games

These are video games that require students to be physically active during play.  These are more difficult to come by as Nintendo is pulling away from the active Wii console and Microsoft has discontinued the Kinect.  Even  Leapfrog has discontinued their own active gaming system.   But Osmo has come up with a way to alter your child’s tablet into a an immersive hands on activity.

Virtual Reality Games

Once your child hits 7 it is considered safe to introduce them to Virtual Reality.  These games are immersive, active, and engaging all rolled into one.  It will require that you purchase the headset before any VR games will be playable for your student, or yourself.  There are exciting immersive games like Minecraft.  Even Discovery Channel and National Geographic have their own VR experiences for your young ones.

What to Avoid 

But what of all these terrible effects?  The raging tantrums, shorter attention spans, and debilitated ability to focus.  In 2017 a two-year study was concluded as a result of a shocking revelation:

A recent meta-analysis identified 101 studies that investigated the effects of playing (violent) video games on children’s and adolescents’ psychosocial health. Of these studies, nearly 70 of them assessed whether (violent) video games were related to externalizing problems (such as aggression). In contrast, prosocial behavior (e.g. Gentile et al. 2009) and internalizing problems (such as depression) were each assessed in about 20 studies (e.g. Parkes et al. 2013). Just 9 studies assessed the relation between gaming and attention problems (e.g. Bioulac et al. 2008) and even fewer investigated the relation between gaming and children’s peer relationships (e.g. Przybylski 2014). (Lobel 2017)

What might be surprising to many is that Lobel and team found that over the course of two years the average gaming pre-adolescent child did not experience significant changes.  No changes in attention span, focus, behavior, or social skills than that of any other child.  The only two issues they did find boiled down really to the type of gaming your child is participating in. 

Long Dueling Hours

Pre-adolescent children that played Video Games 8 hours or more a week in a competitive game did show the possibility of social behavior roadblocks.  Another article collaborated by school teachers discussed the observations of games that took long periods of time, like the ever-popular Fortnite:

Kolb said video games such as Fortnite are often designed to encourage continuous play. When a player dies in Fortnite, they can begin a new game immediately. “You always want to go back in,” said Kolb, “and do a better job next time.”

And once a round begins, players can’t pause the match. “If you have to turn it off, you’re losing a lot of work you’ve put into it,” said Sierra Filucci, the executive editor of parenting content for Common Sense Media. (Wilson, 2018)

This means that with games like this, children are finding themselves in a near-addictive cycle of gaming that develops over time into a dependency on the game and their devices. 

What we can take from this is to be mindful of the game time your child is putting into it, no more than maybe an hour or two a day.  Also to focus more on games driven by individual successes that could be played cooperatively as opposed to competitively.


While Lobel’s study had such a minute amount of pupils that elected to even play violent video games, they have been known to raise blood pressure and heart rate of the player.  Observations of raised aggression in adolescents have also been noted in other studies.  Be mindful of the graphic content in the game, the opportunities for aggression, and whether or not your child or student appears under any real stress during gameplay.

All-in-all, video games are a great tool to brush up on a concept a student may be struggling with, spark interest in a subject when a student seems disengaged, or provide an immersive introduction to an exciting new unit study!

In what ways do you use Gamification at home or in the classroom?


Furdu, I., Tomozei, C., & Köse, U. (2017). Pros and Cons Gamification and Gaming in Classroom. BRAIN: Broad Research in Artificial Intelligence & Neuroscience8(2), 56–62. Retrieved from

(2017). Video Gaming and Children’s Psychosocial Wellbeing: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Youth & Adolescence46(4), 884–897.

Educators Battling Class Distractions Of “Fortnite” Game. (2018). Education Week37(29), 1–8. Retrieved from

Barreto, D., Vasconcelos, L., & Orey, M. (2017). Motivation and Learning Engagement through Playing Math Video Games. Malaysian Journal of Learning and Instruction14(2), 1–21. Retrieved from

11 thoughts on “Video Games and Education-Do they mix?”

  1. Growing up I ended up playing computer games to gain a better understanding of math (School House of Rock Math Tour). I can definitely see the pros and cons of incorporating games into the class room. The pro being a good way to show another route to better grasp a subject that they are having a hard time understanding in class. Con would be the overuse of game time and then losing sight of the sole purpose of using the game as an educational tool. I guess it would solely depend on the teacher and how it would tie into the curriculum.

  2. I think you have to be mindful of what video games are being used. Anecdotally speaking to parents whose children have become “hooked” on games which are more violent in nature has led to behavioural and aggression issues with their children which they didn’t exhibit before exposure to these type of games. That being said interactive tools to help unlock children’s creative thinking in my opinion is a good thing. Not everyone learns and takes information in the same way.

  3. I think people misunderstand gamification and think it’s just about playing games, but we used gamification at work. The old way was to manually track by spreadsheet the points that people would earn to achieve certain work-related goals. The new way is to have them in a gaming system, where points are rewarded for certain work-related goals but they also earn points for moving through the system, decking out their avatar, playing games within the tool, etc. Those points were then used to buy real items out of our store. We found that people, especially millennials, were more engaged with doing their job when there was a fun reward system attached to it.

    Maybe if there was a gamification system in place when I was in school, I might have learned the Periodic Table.

  4. I am a teacher, and I love some games and some online learning websites! We are in the era of technology, so let’s use it and help our kids learn! I do think though the technology should be used in chunks!

  5. Though my son has become digitally smart by some video games, I am against of mixing these two !!!

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