Video Games and Education

January 24, 2005

This is interesting (link via Slashdot). I think there is certainly something to the suggestion that video games, as immersive experiences, can teach certain skills and knowledge more effectively than traditional methods. However, I also think that their usefulness is somewhat limited to those particular areas.

Portraying the world as a video game necessarily creates a simplified version of how things really work. For example, SimCity can demonstate important concepts about balancing economic and political interests, but it only provides a few options (e.g., raising or lowering taxes, building a stadium, or destroying the city with a tornado) for dealing with situations that may arise. A game like Age of Empires or Civilization teaches players valuable lessons about maintaining good cashflow, but doesn’t point out that you can only go so far with wood, food, stones, and gold as your sole resources or that sending a lone hoplite to take out a tower may not be the best plan.

In order to be entertaining, games have to lose some of the "real" aspects of the world they present and rely on carefully balanced game elements. This makes them useful for teaching some general concepts, but doesn’t obviate the need for more standard methods of education.

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