Introduction to Educational Gaming


Return to Educational Gaming

Unit 1 Objectives

At the end of the unit, learners will be able to:

- reflect on new ideas they gained about educational gaming

- identify 5 reasons gaming has a role in education


Before beginning this unit, please take a few minutes to reflect upon your personal thoughts on educational gaming. What thoughts/ideas come to your mind when you think of gaming? Do you consider it to be a resource or a hinderance to learning? Can gaming help to build real-world skills? Do you currently use it within your classroom setting? Reflect upon anything that you feel is related.


"Computer and video games aren't as bad as you think the are - in fact, there's a good reason to believe that they do a tremendous amount of good." - Marc Prensky

Using games in education began in about 1984. A teacher name Jan Davidson created a gaming software program called Math Blaster to be used on the new Apple II computer. More titles soon followed; including Reader Rabbit, Oregon Trail, and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego. These programs took educational subjects and presented them in a manner that was both new and exciting.

Twenty years later technology and gaming has become almost an integral part of our lives and that of our students. 93% of students in the K-12 levels play video games. By the time they reach 21, most students will have spent 10,000 hours playing video games. To effectively reach our students we should tap into using these games as a resource. These games not only engage our students but they help teach them skills that they will need to survive in the 21st century.

Although kids may not admit it, most spend so much time playing video games because they're learning. When they play a game for the first time kids know very little about the game or the rules that operate it. They don't know what problems they will encounter or how to solve those problems. In order to win, the 'gamer' must become a master of the rules, learn what the problem is, and how to solve those problems. They will also learn how to fail in order to succeed.

James Paul Gee is one of the forerunners in the realm of research on educational gaming. He has spent many years researching what video games have to teach about learning. He believes that video games can do all the things that our educational system has failed to do. Video games continuously engage students, make them feel is it safe to fail, allows them to ask questions without fear, and creates learning that is relevant to the learner. Video games can help reach students who have failed with traditional methods of teaching.

Principles of Game Design

James Paul Gee is the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University. He is the author of several books regarding video games and education (see references section. Gee has been a forerunner in the research regarding what video games have to teach students that they are having trouble learning in a 'regular' education setting. Along the way he has discerned that video games are developed on a specific set of principles that promote learning and acquisition of knowledge.

There are 36 principles that Gee has documented through his research. Five of the most important are listed here.

Principle #1) Active, Critical Learning: All aspects of learning within a video game is active and interactive. The learner takes part in critical learning. Nothing is passive.

Principle #2) Psychosocial Moratorium: Learners take more risks as their are fewer 'real-world' consequences. They are less afraid of chance and of making mistakes.

Principle #3) Achievement Principle: Rewards are given from the beginning. Almost every action has a reward on some level. This provides more encouragement for learners/players to continue on.

Principle #4) Practice Principle: The learner gets lots and lots of practice in a world they are not bored by. Each action is connected to the next. As the learner masters one action they use what they have practiced to solve the next. They learn that everything is related.

Principle #5) Multimodal Principle: Meaning and knowledge are built through multiple modalities. A video game simultaneously uses text, images/graphics, symbols, interaction, sound, and many other forms to keep the learner engaged rather than just one at a time.


Research other principles of gaming. How do these principles enhance learning in the video game setting? What other ideas can you think of that video games use to engage learners and help them construct knowledge?

Student Motivation

One of the many problems that exists in education today is in motivating students. As most teachers will agree, it is difficult to engage every single learner on every subject. Many times it may seem as though the same learners are being left behind. Video games offer a solution.

Students today are part of a new generation that demands interactivity and engagement. If they are not engaged they are bored and not getting what they need. Many games have been developed that coincide with the standard subjects that are taught in schools. Using one of these to help engage students will motivate the student because in order for the students to move throughout the game they must become a master of the subject and their knowledge is continually being tested.

Concluding Unit Activity

Check out one of the following websites with free games. Different levels have been included for your different teaching levels. Examine the game(s) on the site.

Kindergarten - 2nd: [1] ~ Games are related to phonics and reading skills

Kindergarten - 8th: [2] ~ Games for almost every subject area including: math, science, history, language arts, music, geography, art, technology, and physical education

Kindergarten - 8th: [3] ~ Games include many subject areas including: problem solving, puzzles, and basic subject areas

5th - 10th: Quest Atlantis[4] ~ Help students understand social studies, environmental concerns, current events, and scientific standards

7th - 12th: Whyville [5] ~Provide a student-centered, hands-on environment for exploring various school subjects

6th - 12th: SimCity [6] ~ Understand variable manipulations for urban management while having fun building a simulated city

Post Reflection: Name five ways the game can be used in your classroom. How would it help students become stronger on the topic? Would you use this as part of the lesson or as a tool to enhance the lesson? What new ideas did you gain for using educational gaming? How has this changed from your original thoughts?

Go to Unit 2: Common Objections and Misconceptions

Go to Unit 3: Using Games in Your Classroom

Go to Educational Gaming Resources