Video games have been used as a leisurely activity for many years. While there have been the occasional games that are used almost universally (think Oregon Trail), video games are starting to become more prevalent in the classroom. Using video games is a far cry from traditional academia, but that doesn’t make it an invalid teaching tool. There’s a lot that can be gained from video games if you use them correctly.
While video games used to target a specific demographic, they are now much more far-reaching. Not all games are about fighting and killing in-game characters. There are games designed to teach resource management, explore different cultures, and even video games that address topics such as bullying and mental health issues. But how do you use video games in a way that will actually help your students learn? That’s what we’re here for.
- Consider the resources you have available to you before you begin to work on your curriculum. Unless you teach a college course, you can’t require your students to buy expensive video games for your lessons. This means that for the most part, video games are going to have to be used in the classroom. How many computers do you have access to? Does your classroom utilize devices such as iPads? You can even use consoles; older consoles are much cheaper than brand new ones, and if you have a console you can always bring it in.
- If getting your hands on games for the classroom isn’t possible, you can have your students watch let’s plays of games. A let’s play is a video of someone playing part or all of a video game. You’ll want to watch these first to make sure they are appropriate. This can be done as an assignment or in class, with you pausing to lecture during different parts of the game. You can also record your own let’s play, with you giving your lesson while you play.
- Video games may be used primarily for entertainment, but you can change that in the classroom. For example, using a story-driven game can be used in a similar way as a novel. As the game unfolds, you can find symbolism, explore cultural themes, and analyze characters. Pick a puzzle-based game to help improve critical thinking skills. Choose a survival game to help teach resource management and social rules. There’s so much you can teach with video games, but it’s all about choosing the right game for the right class and age group.
- You can also use video games to teach about research. Students can look into demographics, learn how demand has gone up for different genres over the years, learn about how video games come from all over the world, and more. This allows you to use the concept of video games without having students actually play them.
- If you are looking for a way to open up a discussion about difficult social topics such as mental health, poverty, racism, and more, video games are a great way to do this. Many video games feature sections or even entire games dedicated to these types of topics. Life Is Strange, for example, confronts issues such as bullying, suicide, and violence. Be cautious when choosing games though, as a lot of these can get very dark. You may want to use specific clips or play certain sections of games to get your point across. If you do choose to use a game with dark themes, be sure to get parental permission first.
- Don’t just pick out any game to play, especially if it touts itself as an education game. Look at it for yourself and see what students can learn from it. Minecraft is a fantastic game that helps teach resource management, math skills, and teamwork. It can be great for use in the classroom. The Professor Layton series is a puzzle-based game that requires critical thinking, math skills, word skills, and more. But you probably don’t want to bring a game such as Fallout into the classroom. While it is an interesting game, it won’t bring a lot of education into the classroom.
- You can also have students play games that very clearly are meant to teach concepts. Video games are fun and generally will capture and keep your student’s attention. These content-aligned games will specifically teach certain concepts to students.
- You may also have students make their own video games. Making a video game can be expensive but it doesn’t have to be. This may inspire students to work more in STEM activities. They can build games with a story, demonstrating specific educational content, or even just use game-building software just to help them learn about a new type of technology.
- Make sure you have a strategy for how you will grade assignments used through gaming. Do not base the grades on a student’s score on a game. The point of the game isn’t to be good at it, the point is to learn. Maybe students write essays, or are given traditional paper assignments to test what concepts they have learned.
- Above all, make sure you do this carefully. You don’t want video games to take over your classroom, you simply want them to enhance learning. You may choose to do this over the course of the year or only for several specific units. Don’t use video games just for the sake of video games; only use video games in your classroom if they will work will with the lesson you are trying to teach.
Have you tried video games in the classroom? How did it go? Let us know in the comments!