Posted on February 11th, 2010 No comments
Many of us have been taught that video games and games in general, are something children do to pass away the time between schooling and sleep. We have been told they will ‘rot our brains’ and our ambition will follow close behind. Not only are they considered devoid of any valuable experience, they are fabled to be detrimental to productivity in general. This is a falsehood, propagated by popular stigma and collective ignorance. Although previously regarded as mindless distractions, video games actually stimulate learning, enhance literacy, are valuable teaching aids, and develop important cognitive skills.
Contrary to what many would have you believe games are not a mere indulgence, but rather a valuable tool, which naturally models itself after our learning process. The very reason humans play games of any type, is that they simulate scenarios which must be reacted to by the participants. Failing to react according to the rules results in personal loss of some kind, failure is averted through practice and practice is a fundamental building block of human learning. For example, a popular game genre called Real Time Strategy, requires players to develop and manage facilities for the autonomous residents of the game world. In 2002, BBC reported that children improved in reading, spelling and mathematics while participating in a study on Real Time Strategy games(“Video games ‘stimulate learning’,” 2002).
Traditional teaching and learning techniques can be enhanced to include media once considered entertainment encouraging development of literacy and other important skills. To a lesser extent, even games designed purely for entertainment create remarkable increases in cognitive skills when utilized over a sustained period of time. During a 2007 interview conducted by Gamezone.com, Author and Professor James Gee shared his thoughts on video games and the learning process.
“Built into their very designs were good learning principles, principles supported, in fact, by cutting-edge research in cognitive science, the science that studies human thinking and learning. Many of these principles could be used in schools to get kids to learn things like science, but, too often today schools are returning to skill-and-drill and multiple-choice tests that kill deep learning.”(Bedigian, 2007)
Paul Kearney, a lecturer employed by Unitec Computing in New Zealand, also believes that video games play a very important role in the development of cognitive skills. Paul, using software designed by the US Military, tested the multitasking skills of 40 individuals, after they engaged in eight hours of gaming each day. The results showed dramatic increases in their cognitive abilities, but only after playing certain types of games. Paul went on to explain that, “It appears that the improvements are due to Counter Strike’s immersive environment. We also tested people after playing Quake, which is more of a fantasy-type first-person-shooter, and there weren’t the same increases in the test scores. It seems that the realistic scenarios and higher stakes in Counter Strike meant players concentrated harder and as a result the improvements in their cognitive abilities were more marked.”(Kearney, (n.d.))
Video games that are designed specifically for training purposes have shown to be an invaluable resource to more serious institutions, including the United States Department Of Defense. Games provide us with the best kind of learning because the student does not need to be aware of the learning process in order to benefit. A recent article released on the DoD website makes several mentions that current studies show an increased perceptual ability in video game players and what they have called “Fluid Intelligence” or the ability to “solve problems without prior knowledge or experience”. The following is an excerpt from that article:
“Research under way by the Office of Naval Research indicates that video games can help adults process information much faster and improve their fundamental abilities to reason and solve problems in novel contexts.”(Freeman, 2010)
The US Military is well known for it’s open minded approach to adopting unorthodox training procedures and has never been shy about using simulations and games to enhance troop readiness. A 2003 article of Wired.com reports that “For years, the U.S. armed forces have used big, sophisticated simulators with hydraulics, wall-size video screens and realistic cockpits. But such gear costs millions of dollars — far too pricey, even by military standards, to be widely available. That’s why video games make sense.” The article also discusses the vast resources the military is spending on developing these products, “Full Spectrum Warrior was created through the Institute for Creative Technologies in Marina Del Rey, California, a $45 million endeavor formed by the Army five years ago to connect academics with local entertainment and video-game industries.”(Wired.com, 2003)
As more and more research becomes available on the subject, video games seem to do more good than harm. We should rejoice that even in our leisure, as children and adults, we are capable of expanding our abilities. As the digital age lays it’s rewards at our feet, we are encouraged to create and to dream. Through our play, we learn and through our learning we evolve. So go ahead, rot your brains out.
Bedigian, L. (2007, March 03). Professor James Paul Gee shows the world the importance of video games. Retrieved from http://www.gamezone.com/news/07_03_03_06_17PM.htm
Freeman, B. (2010, January 25). Researchers examine video gaming’s benefits. Retrieved from http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=57695
Video games ‘stimulate learning’. (2002, March 18). Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/1879019.stm#map
Kearney, P. (n.d.). Computer games improve cognitive skills.. Retrieved from
Wired.com, (2003, October 03). Military training is just a game.. Retrieved from