It can easily be said that digital games have the potential to be an important teaching tool because of their interactivity, engagement and immersion.
Serious games enable players to experience situations that otherwise would be impossible due to the cost, the amount of time, location and safety reasons. It mainly does this through the Simulation within the game that helps the players experience something that in the real world would be physically impossible to achieve. For example “Second Life” where you and create almost anything within a 3-dimensional fictional environment. Games can support education because they can provide a learning experience without the limitations of the real world.
Players of serious games can also use a game environment as a means to play out or test a particular strategy or adopt a certain approach. With this players can ‘Learn by doing.’ This can be seen in the game “Reach for the Sun” where you learn about photosynthesis, plant anatomy, the role of male and female components in pollination, and the cycle of life and death by playing the game and learning from mistakes.
In games we strive to pick ourselves up when we fall due to the rapid feedback cycle. Games help player conquer the fear of failure by the replay-ability of levels, helping us learn by each experience that we do over. The ability to repeat our mistakes helps us learn faster.
“Learning by doing’ and ‘experiential learning’ are possibly overused terms, but in this case, it is very pertinent to building a deep understanding of scenarios, concepts, processes, environments and systems.” – Kevin Corit, PIXELearning.
Games can engage players emotionally and physiologically within a game play experience. This to the point where a game can increase heart rates, raise the hair on the back of your neck or make you laugh just by interacting with a screen. This must mean that there is more to games than just looking at a screen.
Games can be woven into education effectively and usefully by the use Tangential Learning – which is being exposed to things you are already engaged in rather then anything you’re being taught. That can help the player be interested in what their learning so they’re more likely to take it in. Tangential learning could be subtlety implemented in games by referenced objects, game indexes, quotations in loading screens, and using historical environments and characters.
Games can also use narratives, humor, and characters to engage players, using them as a means to develop memory hooks. The players will remember not only what happened but why it happened. This can be used to develop and teach thinking skills like conflict resolution. If you were also to include problem solving within a simulation of a relatable situation, the player can derive real world satisfaction from it. By making the player engage with the content and relate them to real world scenarios, the drive to learn is increased without the player knowing so. In the game “Beneath Floes” you are given choices throughout the game about what you would do in the situation, connecting you to it through player agency. Then at the end the main message of the game resonates with the player more effectively as they feel personally involved.
Not to mention, games have a way of teaching that can easily be mistaking for just play. This enables players to be in a learning environment without resistance to learning, and developing full concentration.
“Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” – Winston S. Churchill
Another way education can be supported by games is the abilities games have to record information. This can be useful for knowing how a particular person learns, what strategies they adopted and how they analysed the information plus other helpful information. This is helpful to education as it can use information like this to inform trainers about learning ability, for example knowledge, competency, and problem solving skills.
PIXELearning Limited, Founder Kevin Corti,Game Based Learning; a Serious Business application, Feb 2006.
FutureLab, Senior Researcher Mary Ulicask, Games in Education: Serious Games, June 2010.