How video games help students learn

People spend 3 billion hours playing video games…a week! That’s a lot. Are we wasting our time? Or is there a benefit to playing video games? I’m leaning toward the second option. People are spending more and more time playing video games. And this can’t help but affect other areas of life, especially education. But before we talk about education, let’s try to understand the phenomenon of video games.

Why are video games popular?

To get to the bottom of this question, let’s turn to science

Games satisfy many psychological needs. For good reason gamification – the application of game elements (achievements, points) in a non-game environment – has become a separate scientific discipline. At the same time, it is in many ways based on psychology.

Why do games addictive?
  • They set a specific goal. In real life, we set goals and decide what to achieve. But games are different, everything is solved for us.
  • Satisfy the need to feel efficient. It’s nice to feel progress when you’re doing things, even if they are virtual. Stimulate the release of the joy hormone dopamine when we discover achievements, get points or game bonuses.
  • Set simple tasks in the beginning and get harder gradually. This makes it easier to get into a flow state, in which we focus entirely on the task and forget about the rest.
  • Some games have a social aspect, allowing you to spend time with virtual friends.

Finally, playing is fun. Without the fun, the other reasons wouldn’t matter. Playing means overcoming challenges, enjoying yourself, and having fun at the same time.

Games in Children’s Learning

School is boring. We’re sure you’re shocked. We are not saying that school classes should be fun. It’s just that we absorb information better when we are fully focused and enjoy the work process. Think about it.

Children learn the world through play. They learn the alphabet easier through song or dance, and they remember animals better through funny sounds like “moo-oo” or “woof-woof.” We encourage children to get creative and make crafts so they learn colors, properties of materials, and coordination.

But as time goes on, the learning progresses to a lecture format. Students are told something for eight hours a day, five days a week, and then required to repeat it strictly from a textbook. And worst of all, they are frightened by bad grades that put them at risk of falling behind their peers, so many have to turn to a website like Essay Assistant. For many, this causes stress.

However, we are not interested in criticism of education, but the role of gaming in it.

Games can delay and bring joy, and thus immerse in an optimal state for learning. They can teach problem-solving, math, physics, history, languages, and other humanities. The list can go on and on.

Playing games helps us concentrate much more quickly on solving complex problems.

In addition, video games (and games in general) are supposed to help solve the difficulties associated with getting an education and finding a job.

The current educational system is designed to train professionals who work in one place for a lifetime. But the world has long since changed: according to the latest data, the average American changes up to 10 jobs by the age of 45. And given how many new occupations appear every year, the trend will only intensify. As AI, robotics, and technology develop, humanity will have to solve more and more complex tasks that require deep concentration. These are the skills that video games are developing. This means that gamers may have an advantage in the future.

So, games contribute to learning. But will they help overcome real-world problems? Let’s take a look at how games are applied in education.

Games in Education

We will start with the popular game Minecraft by Mojang. It allows you to mine resources and then builds structures of varying complexity from them. The game world consists of cubic blocks, so the construction requires certain planning skills and basic knowledge of mathematics.

For several years, Minecraft has been used in schools to teach programming, math, and teamwork. And in 2016, Mojang, together with Microsoft, released Minecraft Education Edition.


This version was created specifically for schools. It includes a number of improvements that make it easier to teach programming and optimize teamwork. A one-year license for Minecraft Education Edition costs just $5 for a single student. And schools will get a free license for the first year if they migrate their computers to Windows 10. This low price makes the game affordable for all students.

But Minecraft isn’t the only game in schools. There’s also SimCityEdu, which develops the skills needed to live in the 21st century. A recent update to SimCityEdu is called Pollution Challenge. Students in it have to build a city in the face of climate change. In this way, the game teaches how to solve a real-world problem.

But that is not all. There are schools where the learning process is based entirely on gamification.

Gamification in the classroom

From 2007-2019, a team of New York game designers ran the nonprofit Institute of Play. Based on the principles of game design, they developed school designs, designed educational programs, curricula, and even held corporate seminars.

The Institute of Play offered its model of education – Quest to Learn, which is based not only on video games but on game mechanics in general. Some educational Internet resources also work on a similar principle.

Even such serious specialists as surgeons will soon be able to be trained with the help of video games.

Robotic surgery is a relatively new field in medicine that helps surgeons perform complex tasks using robotics. For example, to operate on brain tumors. Of course, this requires precision, perfect coordination of movements, and strong nerves.

More importantly, a study by Dr. Sami Kilic and colleagues (the University of Texas at Galveston) found that first-person shooters can improve surgeons’ related skills.

Using serious games in training

The robotic surgeon has a lot in common with the game console: it, too, is controlled with two hands using the analog of joysticks and displays the process on the screen. Surgeons themselves learn how to work with robots on special simulators.

Another study from 2007 showed that doctors who played video games did better on a simulator. Apparently, games are really useful.

Games in Education: Obstacles and Drawbacks

It seems that gaming does solve many of the shortcomings of the education system and can change it for the better. But it is not that easy.

Few people are still aware of the benefits of games. To make change happen, more research needs to be done.

Emma Blankie, Ph.D. in age-related psychology at the University of Sheffield, notes: “For all the hype surrounding educational games, there is still little research to prove that games improve student performance and achievement.

Memory plays a key role in learning, so games that develop memory should improve student performance. But to prove this, a lot of research needs to be done.

And you have to teach the new methods to the teachers themselves first. And if you’ve ever explained to parents how to use a smartphone, you understand how difficult it is to retrain people with established habits.

“Video games are not a panacea for all the shortcomings of the education system,” says former Institute of Play managing director Brian Vaniewski. “It may seem that gaming is a next-generation digital textbook that will solve many problems, including personnel problems. But games alone won’t make schools more efficient, won’t replace teachers, and won’t become a tool capable of teaching endless numbers of students.”

It’s also worth touching on the financial aspect. To play, you need expensive devices like tablets and computers, reliable internet, and the ability to buy the games themselves. Of course, as time goes by, devices get cheaper and games to become more affordable (like Minecraft Education Edition), but the problem is still there.

Finally, there is the perception that games distract rather than educate. This is a fair concern, but only if the teacher lets things slide. In such a situation, you need to work on the curriculum or further instruct the teacher. With proper organization, the concern can be dismissed.