Is gaming educational?

Call me a hypocrite if you like but I’m now going to suggest gaming can be educational!

The gaming industry is tapping into what teachers and parents and all the home educators have always known; that if children are happy and engaged in their learning they will achieve a lot more.

This week’s Click on BBC news this Sunday reported on a selection of games at the Serious Games Expo that are supposed to enhance learning. These were mostly for business purposes but I’ve always thought that computer games for educational purposes would be an absolutely fantastic way to learn. There are already some, but our experience of them was that they were little better than keeping kids busy; poorly thought out, far too slow and downright boring in some cases.

But when I watched my youngest on SIMS I used to think how fantastic it would be if there were games as intricate as that which taught kids about their world, languages, history or science topics.

‘Horrible Histories’ both the books and the programmes are a brilliant example of children learning through enjoying themselves. My kids were always citing historical events as a result of watching these, their knowledge soon exceeding mine. And there are many educational games on the BBC Learning site which we used when we were home educating. But if we could get beyond the constipated idea that education has to be grindingly dull and laborious in order to be effective we’d be able to use these untapped facilities a lot more.

Education doesn’t have to dull and laborious; that’s why it’s switching so many of them off. If it’s enjoyable, achievements soar. The kids love their gaming, absorb themselves in it and concentrate for hours even those who are supposed to have ‘attention deficit’ problems. Why should we not use well constructed games to help them learn?

Course having said all that we’re still stuck with the problem of having to limit their ‘screen time’, which I mentioned on my last post.  And not give in to the excuse that mine very quickly learned to adopt; ‘but it’s educational’. We’ll always need to make vigilant judgements about whether it really is!

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7 thoughts on “Is gaming educational?

  1. My six-year-old son loves the Age of Empires game, and I do think it helps him learn. Of course, he will have to expound on that knowledge over the years, but when we study history, he is often already very familiar with historical figures because of this game, and also the basics of what life was like in that historical period.

  2. Gaming is educational to an extent.

    Developers, publishers and the industry as a whole still strongly follows a commercial aesthetic. It is still very much a business, like any other.

    I’ve been gaming since the age of 3 (I’m now 20), so I’ve always been a consumer and a target to the gaming industry. I would argue that the most dominant publishers, the publishers that advertise and force attention to their products to the youth, never consider the goal of education in their development. Entertainment will always be the primary focus, over education and realism.

    That being said, Age of Empires does have reference to historical events and figures, like many others. However, it doesn’t put anything in to historical context and so isn’t a reliable source of information. Horrible Histories is a fairly educational program for all ages, primarily children. As long as children don’t fall pray to it’s satire, that is.

    Will Wright, the creater of The Sims series, did say that simulations as games can be used to improve education by teaching children how to learn. He went on to elaborate by saying that games allow for failure, that trial and error is a efficient method of teaching, if not actually a practical one in the real world, a world that is rutheless with mistakes.

    What does annoy me is when games are used as ‘scapegoats’ for poor education standards and crimes commited by minors. I played Grand Theft Auto 3 (2001), a notoriously violent, 18 rated game, at the age of 11. I never developed the urge to shoot up my school. If anything, games deliver catharsis, a release and an outlet.

    The biggest positive aspect to gaming, in my opinion, is the creativity aspect. An aspect that I feel is undermined in contemporary education. Coming back to The Sims, if you have a creative kid that effectively utilises the games creative features, you may have a young, budding Kevin McCloud on your hands..

    • Great comment Nick, full of very valid points, endorsed by other comments here I think. You’re absolutely right that trial and error is a most effective way to learn and through gaming children have an opportunity, and right, to get things wrong in their own time, thus learning from it. It also gives them a bit of control and independence over the procedure which so many of them crave and get so little opportunity for. God forbid that the ‘entertainment’ aspect of gaming should ever be corrupted by making them ‘educational’. It would kill the enjoyment dead, especially if the government get wind of it and start slapping attainment targets on them like so many other subjects in life! Thanks for posting, I enjoyed reading it. BWs x

  3. Age of Empires was a real hit here for a awhile. I was amazed how much the kids learnt about history accidentally while playing it.

    Any games designed to be educational, however, don’t go down well with my guys. I think their radar detects the ‘we’re going to teach you something, but we’ll pretend it’s fun and jazz it up with some graphics in primary colours in the hope you don’t notice’ ethos.

    The games I think are really educational are the logic-solving ones. Crazy Machines is great, as is the online lego game – Junkbot. I can always tell a great problem-solving game – I lose patience trying to do it and storm off in a huff.

  4. Oh, yes, the ‘But it’s educational!’ ploy! We do lots of learning through gaming too, and that includes me. Two of the most educational ones have been Civilization (Jacob’s main motivation to learn to read I think) and Emperor. I have been amazed at the number of times something suddenly makes much more sense when we can say ‘Oh, that’s like on Civilization!’

    You still have to use them in moderation though don’t you, they can be very addictive. I’m prone to that addiction myself so I model appropriate behaviour. Or try to. Ahem 😉

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