Computer Games- A Teacher’s Friend or Foe?

18th of January 2016



Society has mixed feelings about the youth gaming culture. It’s been a topical debate in the news for decades and, whether we want to admit it or not, the debate is slowly growing in the education sector. Where, if at all, does gaming fit in to educating young people?

Science Daily claims “Game advocates are calling for a sweeping transformation of conventional education to replace traditional curricula with game-based instruction.”

The article goes on to list features which, according to researchers Richard E Mayer, could “substantially improve student performance”:
  • Putting words in conversational style rather than formal style
  • Putting words in spoken form rather than printed form
  • Adding prompts to explain key points in the game
  • Adding advice or explanations at key points in the game
  • Adding pregame activities that describe key components of the game
Mayer does, however, apply limitation to the ways in which games can improve cognitive development, "Overall, cognitive consequences research does not support claims for broad transfer of game playing to performance on cognitive skill tests," Mayer wrote. "That is, no sufficient evidence supports the claim that playing computer games can improve one's mind in general." (2016)

Are games something that should be encouraged in the classroom? Surely people of the post digital revolution generation spend enough time staring at screens and playing in the dark confines of bedrooms?

According to a study published by (NYU) New York University “Math video games can enhance students’ motivation to learn, but it may depend on how students play” (2013)

“We found support for claims that well-designed games can motivate students to learn less popular subjects, such as math, and that game-based learning can actually get students interested in the subject matter—and can broaden their focus beyond just collecting stars or points,” says Jan Plass, a professor in NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. 

Considering the views of both Mayer and Plass, the conclusion we can come to is that games have a place in educating young people, but only in certain areas. We shouldn’t start chucking Jane Austen novels out of the window and replacing them with “The Darcy Party Game”, in which students simply play through literature problems via their digital device.


When teaching STEM subjects, however, there is a real place for games in learning. Platforms such as VLEs and app based learning on tablets or mobiles could become an excellent way to increase the number of teachers embracing this, essentially classic and yet, progressive learning technique. By integrating learning based games into the VLE or going direct to the game app, teachers could then lead students through a mosaic of learning styles which include and incorporate games. 

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