Killer Kittens from Mars

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Learning Through Games

Have you ever learned from a video game? Your automatic answer may be no, but that’s not really true. Assuming you have played Mario, then you know what to do when you see a Koopa. You jump on that bitch like a arachnophobe on a spider. This is either wired into your head either through muscle memory or known through an abstract understanding of the concept. Although the knowledge of jumping over or onto Koopas isn’t usable in the real world, some knowledge learned from games can be much more useful.

We already understand the concept of learning games. I’m sure that you’ve even had to play a few “educational” games. If you need some examples of educational games you can go here. Sadly, most of games of this type aren’t any fun. They focus entirely on the concept of learning instead of on enjoyment. This can lead the casual observer to say that games can’t be both fun and educational. However there are games out there specifically made to implant knowledge without player consent or awareness. These are called propaganda games.

So how come propaganda games can make learning ‘fun’ and educational games games can’t? Well, for you to get the full effect from a porpaganda game, you have to enjoy it. If you are enjoying a propaganda game, then you aren’t thinking about what information it’s presenting you. You aren’t considering whether that information is biased or not.

Another aspect of these games is that unlike educational games they don’t portray themselves as what they are. If a propaganda game comes out and says “I’m here to show why you should hate this political group”. Then it becomes less effective. The same goes for educational games. When they come right out and say, “I’m here to teach you how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions”, they lose the gamer’s interest.   

So it’s important that these games are fun and that the educational aspect is hidden, but how the heck do you do that? Somewhere in your mind, you already know. Think back to the very first game you played. You were rewarded for your efforts quickly either through a nifty new gun or a musical cue when you beat the level or killed a monster. On the other had when you died or failed you went back to the beginning of the level or you lost something. This is called Operant Conditioning, which is conditioning in which you are rewarded or punished for your actions. Operant Conditioning is just one of many different types of learning that is already used in recreational video games.

There is also Classical Conditioning. What happens when you hear this?

What about this?

Each of those videos has an associated response to it that you learned from playing the game. 

Alright, it’s possible to learn from games, but what are the potential benefits? What can kids learn from a game? First of all any game from Mario to Mass Effect will teach you how to problem solve. It does this by presenting a problem, like a jumping puzzle, and encouraging the player to experiment with solutions. This allows the player/student to think around the puzzle as opposed to just being given the solution. 

Gaming can also show that such challenges are fun. Dr. Gee, a professor and an expert on learning through games says that “They’re selling stuff to kids that are complex and hard … it’s virtually addictive”.

Finally video games encourage students to take risks. The ”cost of failure is made lower” allowing students to play without fear of a dropping GPA or the ominous hint of failure. Dr. Gee goes on to say that, “[w]e should use the learning built into good video games in and out of schools”.

What do you think? Should we encourage gaming in children? Should we make more educational games? How would this affect the gaming industry? Drop me a line and tell me what you think.

For more about how games are good for learning:

For more info about propaganda games:

For more info about tangential learning a specific type of learning:

Filed under learning gaming tangential propaganda education