Video Games Teach Us More than Just their Content

“A book or movie can show us what it is like to be in a character’s shoes, but it is the video game that can put us into those shoes.” – Robert B. Marks, Ph.D., Whittier College

Generally speaking, active learning fosters far greater curriculum engagement than say listening to a ‘sage on the stage’ or memorizing stats from a textbook. Fortunately, modern technologies, specifically video games, are making this kind of immersive, hands on learning a greater reality. Game-based learning is enabling students to walk in the shoes of both real life and imaginary characters, empowering them to interact with content in an entirely new way.

But it doesn’t end there. Because video games inspire active learning, students are able to gain skills beyond the knowledge of the content itself.

Video games teach the art of persistence. Students are encouraged to try again until they succeed. There is less of a stigma around failure as it becomes fun to practice and attempt new strategies to see what works. For example,  in our calculus game, Variant: Limits, students can visually see how manipulating equations impacts graphs, charts and their course of action, and therefore they are encouraged to use a trial and error approach.

Video games can help shape students’ decision making and critical thinking skills. It is exploration and experimentation at its best. Students begin to think outside the box, act on their curiosities, and look at different ways to get the correct answer. Once they start to understand what works, they apply that knowledge to help the story unfold.

Video games inspire social interaction and are a great tool to promote teamwork. According to instructor Anita Streich, “ARTé: Mecenas taught my students the importance of collaboration, a great example of active learning. Students were willingly working in pairs and in groups. They were having a dialogue with each other not only about the game’s content, but also its strategy.”

Being immersed in a video game, walking in the character’s shoes, and having a stake in the character’s outcome keeps students invested. Whether they know it or not, they are not just learning the content, but they are acquiring accompanying life skills–the kinds of skills that will serve them over the long term over every aspect of their life. I ask, could a talking head or textbook do that?