How video games can support learning

The topic of video games and their influence on children has always been controversial.
They have been blamed for fostering violent tendencies in children. Research on this is thin, however.
Sometimes, they are even blamed for having a bad impact on children’s emotional development.
In my experience, however, video games can support learning processes, also. This article will give examples of this.

Lastly, I will give recommendations for games or franchises, that I sucessfully used in my classroom.

I will need to say upfront, that I enjoy gaming myself. Video games have been an important companion for me throughout my life since childhood.

Children love playing video games. In some cases, videogames can support learning as well.
Understandably, we are worried about our children’s video gaming habits. But video games can be conducive to learning.

Not all games are created equal

It is important to remember that not all games are equal. In fact, there is maybe no such thing as “Video Games”. It is a very broad medium. There are just as many genres and in any other work of art. But video games are technically more complex. And these technical aspects are also relevant when assessing video games’ potential for supporting learning.

Graphics, sounds, narrative elements. and level design can play a great role in immersion.

Whether or not video games can support learning also depends on what it actually is we want the child to learn. Personally and professionally, I think it is important to focus on holistic learning, that goes beyond pure academic skills. Many educational approaches, such as the IB programmes go in that direction as well.

It is therefore implausible to assume that we cannot learn anything from playing video games.

But it is important to be critical as parents or educators. I think we have an important task of sharpening our understanding of this medium.

Too much gaming can indeed have negative effects.

Video games are here to stay

Another reason for keeping a more open-minded approach to the debate is straightforward. Video games will not go away. They are part of our culture and will always be. By now, a significant proportion of adults game regularly as well.

In other words, video games are a mainstream medium.

Examples of how video games can support learning

If there is one thing we now know about the brain, is that it is very adaptable. Doing any activity repetitively will change our brain.

That is basically, how learning processes mostly work. You wanna get good at playing an instrument? Play that instrument regularly and you will improve.
Many video games have our brains do exactly that. Repeat specific types of exercises repeatedly. Whether it is looking at finance reports in a simulation game or trying to spot perceived enemies in hidden corners in 3D Shooter games.

But some video games also go beyond that. Especially adventure and role-playing games. Some are narrative and literary masterpieces. I just finished playing through Red Dead Redemption 2. I must say, it is probably the best Wild West story, I have ever encountered.
Using literary works can enable us as educators to increase the perceived relevance of analyzing narrative structures and elements. A very important skill in linguistic development.

But even in STEM subjects, video games can support learning.
I sometimes used Cities Skylines in geography lessons. The goal was to engage my students in learning about concepts like urbanization, city planning, resource management, migration patterns, and sustainability.

Last, but not least I have had a significant number of students, whose very good English skills can largely be attributed to their gaming habits. This is because they are very exposed to the language in their games.

How video games can support learning in the classroom

More than once have I used video games set in specific historical periods as a starting point for exploring the past. Take for instance the latest Assassin’s Creed Games, like Odyssey and Valhalla. While the developers have taken some great liberties in the plot lines when it comes to historical accuracy, you cannot deny that they managed to create the most immersive recreation of these periods, when it comes to the atmosphere.

In Odyssey, you can really feel how it was to move around in Ancient Athens. And you get to interact with actual historical characters face-to-face. The discussions that the lead character has with Sokrates are unforgettable.

Again, in this case, it is important that we are critical and also assist children in separating fact from fiction. But I would have to do that no matter what medium I use.

Video Games I repeatedly used in my classroom

I will finish with a short list of video games, which I have often used in my classroom.
There are Amazon affiliate links to the games I present in this list. I get a small commission if you buy through these links. This helps me fund this blog.

Civilization 5

This game is great because it serves as a good example for illustrating key developments in human history. The developers have gone to great lengths to try and simulate factors such as arts and culture and different styles of government, which is excellent as a springboard for a lesson in Social Sciences as well. I personally favor the fifth installment, because I think it is the most immersive game in the series. Also, I think it hits a better balance between gameplay and realism than any other game in the series.

Assassins Creed Odyssey

Actually, I have used almost all Assassin’s Creed games as a starting point for exploring certain aspects of historical periods with my students. The great thing about the franchise is, that they give visually stunning Faecreations of the historic atmosphere and it is inevitable to encounter true historical figures. I do think, when it comes to it, I really love Odyssey. It is visually and atmospherically the best recreation of Ancient Greece I have ever seen.
Also, the developers do a great job of fleshing out Greek mythology and its protagonists. In spite of the historical inaccuracies.

Cities Skylines

Probably the best city-builder there is. Period. Especially when teaching geography, there is no way around diving into the push-pull model of migration, urbanization, production chains, and sustainability. Cities Skylines, especially in conjunction with the Industries and Mass Transit DLC do a great job at visualizing these aspects in a playful manner.

Cities Skylines is probably the best city-builder out there. Period.
Cities Skylines is not only visually beautiful. It also simulates basic city-planning elements very well, which makes it a good learning tool for the purpose.

Farming Simulator 19

This simulator is great for getting a basic understanding of production chains for agricultural products.
It is fairly accessible and therefore well suited for younger audiences. Also, like any simulation game, you get good training in managing the economy of a simple business operation in an immersive way. This is in my view a very important skill to learn.

Video games can support learning if used right

In conclusion, I think video games can be very conducive to learning. But this does not happen automatically. It requires an Open-minded, yet critical approach by us educators to facilitate the process. Video games are a mainstream medium. They are a part of our culture and we would do wise to start showing an interest in what and how our children play in front of the screen. There is a ton of research on this topic by now and the days, where we could dismiss video games as a mind-numbing activity are long gone.



I am from Germany but have spent more than half of my life in Denmark, and other places abroad. I have a background in teaching, both youngsters and adults. I am interested in a wide field of things, which I love to teach and write about. Sustainability, technology, politics, social change, and mental health are just some examples.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow by Email