Video games have a long, troubled, and simultaneously promising relationship with education. According to some, video games are the nemesis of a smart brain. According to others, like columnist Gerry James at edreach.us, video games are not only a teacher’s best friend, but are, in fact, a better teacher than the teacher herself.
While it’s entertaining to continue to pit education against entertainment, I’m more interested in the ways in which video games have–and continue to–augment education, working side-by-side with the more respectable learning methods to shape productive members of society. Here’s a list of some near-and-dear games and game-formats that have helped me over the years strengthen various skills all while providing hours of (mindless?) fun.
One perhaps very clear example is the abundance of “Typing” games– the type that train the user in typing as the goal of the game. They vary in entertain-ness, of course, but some exist that are infinitely more rewarding than formal typing instruction. Typing is a skill that many modern people develop naturally from interaction with computers, however it is invaluable in the job market and therefore is worthy of the classroom in areas that are attended by large portions of students that do not have access to computers for financial or various other reasons.
Also, Minecraft – a sandbox building and survival game. This one may be more surprising because it is in not directly related to education in any way, however the pros are much more numerous than many games specifically designed for the classroom. The most useful tool in the game, redstone, is a system of wiring that is used in the construction of nearly any worth-while creation. It is used to manage lighting, system automation, and anything else the user can cook up. The reason I brought the focus to redstone is because the key principle in the use of redstone is logic gates, which are invaluable to the understanding of basic computer software and hardware design. Interesting application, eh? It also fosters creativity and resource management skills, simply due to the nature of the game sandbox games. On a higher level, players that also involve themselves in the larger Minecraft community can easily learn from others how to apply and create “Mods” or player-created additions to the game, which is very direct experience with game design and programming.
Then, Kerbal Space Program – a game about the exploration of space and the management of the space program of an alien race, the Kerbals. The major value of this game is that, in order to make any progress in the campaign, you must learn the basics of the design of interplanetary vehicles and the piloting of such vehicles as the user is responsible for both aspects. And the game is infinitely rewarding for every scrap of knowledge beyond those basics that improve the performance, creation, piloting, and management of a player’s missions. In addition, and less directly, it teaches the player about the structure of our solar system, which is suspiciously similar to the Kerbals’ solar system, and celestial bodies within it.