Are games a guilty pleasure or an unparalleled learning experience?
The answer to this question may allow us to view games in a different light.
Take, for example, Space Invaders— one of the original and most iconic games ever made. A very basic game in comparison to what’s available today.
Check out the video at the top of this article where I play the game. Am I learning anything by playing Space Invaders?
The answer is yes, I am. Deep learning is happening.
While I’m playing the game, I’m learning the rules of the game, the game mechanics, cause and effect, and more.
What happens when I shoot a shield? What happens when I shoot an alien? What happens when the aliens drop down a level?
I'm learning through trial and error as I fail in the game.
In fact, I’m failing constantly. I fail when I miss an alien, when I shoot my own shield, when I let the aliens drop down a level, and when I get shot. I fail when I lose attention or focus.
I call these micro failures — and they happen all the time in games and in our daily lives as well.
As I fail frequently and repeatedly, I’m also learning to overcome that failure. The act of failing doesn’t paralyze me, it teaches me.
Ultimately, with enough practice, I will achieve success through failure. Incidentally, that’s how many successful business people actually become successful. They experience countless micro failures, until they eventually succeed.
And, there’s even more going on in Space Invaders. I’m practicing and improving hand-eye coordination, physical timing, and fine motor skills. As a father of a child with special needs, I learned not to underestimate the importance of this type of learning as my son struggled to hold a pencil or drink from a cup. But with therapy and practice, including gaming, he’s now beating me at Mario Kart using a game controller.
The fact is that all games are educational.
All games are learning games because our brain is always learning. It doesn’t matter if we are shooting aliens, flinging angry birds, or leading a guild into battle, our brains are wired to learn.
So the question is not if a game is educational or not. We are gaining knowledge and we are gaining skills. The question is how valuable the gaming experience is to helping us improve our daily lives. Is the knowledge and are the skills we are gaining from playing the game transferrable to the real world? Can they help us succeed at life?
To answer that question, compare Space Invaders to the GoVenture Entrepreneur business simulation game that is designed to train you how to start and run a business (Disclosure— I designed GoVenture Entrepreneur).
The GoVenture Entrepreneur game is designed with a specific educational objective, whereas Space Invaders is designed purely for entertainment.
Clearly, the GoVenture Entrepreneur game equips the player with much more knowledge and many more skills that are useful to real life. And, the experience is compressed in such a way to transfer knowledge and nurture skills in a highly-accelerated way, potentially multiple times faster than any other learning method.
So, all games are indeed educational because our brains are always learning. We can choose games purely for their entertainment value (with a little bit of educational benefit), or choose games that help us succeed at life.
I'm Mathew Georghiou and I write about how games are transforming education and learning. I design educational resources used by millions around the world. Follow me here and at Georghiou.com