Learning From Games: Using Games to fulfill learning goals

I recently watched an excellent video about the role of games in education that was created by Penny Arcade TV. The video serves a commentary about intrinsic motivation of video game play. Their premise is this - play is a voluntary activity, forcing students to play educational games reduces intrinsic motivation and thus students are robbed of the pleasure of play. This got me thinking about how to turn this dilemma on its head.


Instead of teachers telling students what game they will play and what they will learn why not ask the students about what their favourite games are, why they like that specific game and what they have learned from playing that game. This could provide the teacher with an opportunity to create a learning experience for the student that builds on their interest in the game. As a former classroom teacher I know it would be very challenging to create 30 individual learning experiences that build on gaming interests of 30 students, but I do think it would be possible to create a series of lessons that address a variety of learning objectives while giving students the option to choose the context.

  1. Students could write a paper that uses descriptive language to describe their favourite game and why it is their favourite. 
  2. An additional persuasive writing task would be to have them compare and contrast their favourite game to other lesser games and provide suggestion for improvements to the favourite game. This authentic learning experience mimics the work of professional game and product reviewers.
  3. A procedural writing task could have students write out the steps to be successful in a game. The assessment of this task could be to give the steps to success to someone not familiar with the game to see if the procedures listed are accurate.
  4. Having students describe what they have learned from their favourite game  and how it connects to classroom learning could provide educators with an opportunity to explore the academic relevance of game play. Learning about mythology, geography/history, physics/engineering could enhance student understanding of game play in Legend of Zelda, Call of Duty, Gears of War, F1, Forza or Motorsport. Thus, students might become more engaged in the subjects that could improve their game play.

These activities can also be used to engage non-gamers as well as all of these learning tasks could be applied to a variety of student interests from specific sports to a favourite novel, movie or music genre.

Play on!