This I Believe

William - Seattle, Washington
Entered on January 7, 2007

I believe in video games as learning tools

I believe that people can learn from video games. Many edutainment games are designed incorrectly. Many video games teach without trying to do so, and end up being great games. But any game that tries to teach isn’t as much a game as it is a fancy math test. As soon as developers try to make a game for teaching instead of entertaining, they’re doomed. Video games are, and always will be, primarily for enjoyment. But certain things about them can make them useful for education

I have personal experience in learning through games. A game called Eve Online, an MMOG, is my best example. An MMOG is a game where thousands of players connect to one server over the Internet and interact to play the game. You can almost think of it as connecting into a virtual reality. The game is set in space, in the far future.

The way this game taught me math is an example of how video games can really help teach young people. Eve Online has a complicated set of game mechanics that you need to know if you want to stand a chance in the game. I would often spend an hour contemplating over different options for spaceship equipment and their benefits and disadvantages. In order to make a final decision, I had to do some number crunching. This is where video games truly show their power as learning tools.

While number crunching for the game didn’t directly teach me new math concepts, it did two important things. It streamlined calculating and math logic in my brain so I understood math better. Then when I learned new concepts they were easier to grasp. The part where video games show their power, is that I didn’t pay attention to the fact that I was reviewing math. It seemed like stuff for the game then. It felt like it was actually useful.

Math isn’t useless. It can help get some very good jobs. The problem is, most teenagers aren’t willing to wait 5-10 years to see math be useful before deciding it isn’t. When someone learns math and gets to apply it to a game right away, which feels important at the time, they’ll keep studying. When they have to wait years to see why it’s important, they just give up.

Video games can teach people many things, but there is a limit as to what they can do. The only other problem is that the game has to require those skills be learned in order for a player to finish it, and the game has to be interesting. If a game makes it obvious it involves math, people don’t play it. Thats where “learning games” fail.