Five Myths Dispelled About Video Games and Game-Based Learning

Many people have a hard time even considering the idea of video games as an effective educational tool. After all, video games are for entertainment; even those of us who enjoy playing don’t often think of them as a learning opportunity.   

There are also a number of myths about the effects of video games that lead many to believe they cannot or should not be used to educate. In the following, we work to dispel those myths.

Educational video games are trying to replace teachers

Hardly. Game-based learning is not aimed at replacing teachers but at providing them a powerful tool to enhance instruction. Games are a powerful media that can help students grasp content by allowing them to interact with complex concepts that would otherwise appear abstract.

Take the classic game The Oregon Trail, by playing the role of a 19th century settler students get the opportunity to experience the historical events confronting those who took on  the challenge of trekking across the United States. The game experience brings to life what they’re learning in a textbook and in class, making them more likely to retain the content.

Video games make students anti-social

Video games have long been caricatured as a pastime for those who lack social skills or don’t feel comfortable interacting with other people. But research suggests video games actually correlate with the opposite personality traits. A study by researchers at Oxford University found children who average an hour a day of video games are more sociable, happier and less likely to be hyperactive than children who don’t play video games.

Not only do video games provide an activity for kids to share with their friends in the neighborhood, but they offer an unprecedented opportunity to interact with players from all over the world. The team-play that is central to many of the most popular games serves as a powerful lesson on cooperation, collaboration and leadership.

Video games harm a child’s attention span

Many teachers and parents assume that video games are to blame for children who can’t concentrate in the classroom. But video games actually demand a very high level of concentration, and research has shown they can enhance a child’s ability to focus and multi-task.

Neuroscientist Daphne Bevelier, who did aTED talk on the subject, described that her research found significant gaming experience leads to more efficient functioning of the three brain networks associated with attention: the parietal cortex, the frontal lobe and the anterior cingulate. As a result, those who play video games tend to have a superior ability to track multiple objects at a time and can more quickly shift attention from one task to another.

Video games only appeal to boys

This is one stereotype that refuses to die, despite strong evidence to the contrary. A 2014 study by the Entertainment Software Association found that females age 10-20 made up nearly as large a share of the gaming market as males in the same age group: 11 percent compared to 12 percent.

While there is hardly gender parity in every segment of the gaming market, the research shows the great majority of boys and girls enjoy playing games on their phones, computers and consoles. A study by Quantic Foundry, which studies gamer motivation, found that while those who play games are overwhelmingly male, women make up the great majority of those playing “Match 3” puzzles or simulation games in which players design homes, farms or families.

It’s impossible to measure the effect of educational video games

It’s actually not that hard to assess the impact an educational game has on a student’s understanding of the subject matter. We can give students a test on the subject matter before they play the game and then give them the same test after they’ve played. If their performance improves, that’s strong evidence the game improved their understanding of the content.

One illustrative example comes from a study conducted to evaluate the impact of ARTé: Mecenas, a game Triseum designed to teach students college-level art history. The experimental group was given pre-tests on the subject matter and then played the game for at least two hours the following week before taking a post-test. In the end, students demonstrated a knowledge gain of 24.7 percent.