Video Games Over Textbooks

April 19, 2018
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Since the beginning, this form of entertainment was always associated with poor academic performances, misconduct, because it had promoted laziness or violence. However, several recent studies had proved this connection between video games and the horrid consequences of playing it, to not be entirely true. These studies discovered that video games are more than just a way to have a good time and that video games can be used as a tool to actually improve one’s learning. I would argue that video games help improve academic performances because of the critical thinking it demands, and the engaging experience it offers.

At its simplest, a video game is a puzzle, that the player would then have to solve using the resources given to them by the developer. The player would have to find a way to use the tools or resources given to them, in such a way that would help bring the player closer to solving the puzzle. An example of this appears in Super Mario 64, as the player would have to both use the movement and the occasional power-ups to surpass dangerous enemies and bottomless pits in order to reach the end of the level. In one study, test subjects were asked to play Super Mario 64, and the scholars of Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Charité University Medicine St. Hedwig-Krankenhaus discovered that there was an increase in the regions of the brain responsible for memory formation, strategic planning, as well as fine motor skills (Kurzweil). Although it seems unintuitive at first, these obstacles actually help guide the player to their destination. I first noticed this design when I was playing Dark Souls 3. As I was playing, I began to notice that whenever I would brave the path of many enemies, then I would typically be rewarded with a shorter passage to a checkpoint. This design can also be seen in Super Mario 64, as the only path that would lead Mario to his destination is the path of the most resistance. With all of these different components brewed together in the form of a video game, the player would need to think, assess their situation, and calculate the risks to make each decision count. Because of these requirements, games often demand critical thinking, as the player would have to anticipate what the developers toss at them and react accordingly. However, games that fall under the category of a MOBA had the player anticipating what their opponents/other gamers toss at them. In these games, the player would have to cooperate with their teammates, plan out carefully, and with each strategic kill and captured objectives at a time, win the match. From cooperation and coordination to planning and analysis, these games can be used to improve the player in these particular skills. Skills which the player can then implement in real life scenarios: like helping with their learning.

“Well-designed video games are natural teachers” (Dana Foundation) since they allow the player to retry until they can overcome the challenges within the game, which opens up an opportunity for the player to learn at their own pace. And with repetition, comes a deepened understanding of what it takes to play the video game, which makes it easier and more effective for the player to apply their skills in the real world.

Using video games as a tool for students to learn and study would strengthen newly absorbed information, and solidify facts or concepts that the students already knew. By nature, video games are made to be an engaging and interactive form of entertainment. As a result, the player is able to take in more of the learning as they are experiencing and experimenting with their learning, rather than reading from a textbook or being told the facts (Khadra).

An example of a video game being used as a tool for learning was in “One study of a game relating to numerical analysis in an engineering curriculum found that students experienced significantly more intellectual intensity, intrinsic motivation, positive affect and overall student engagement when completing homework” (Khadra). This just shows how effective video games can be when it was being used as homework. Students had put more thought into completing their work, and they were more engaged, than if they were to do it on a piece of paper.

One factor that greatly influences the level of engagement of video games is coordination. For example, certain quests in the multiplayer game World of Warcraft require players of different skills to cooperate with each other. Because the quest demanded teamwork, the players who were involved in the quest had gained a better understanding of the different variations of players in the game, and how they connect, interact, and relate to one another (Khadra). Imagine if a game were to be made with this kind of system, with the sole intent to educate students. If so, I’d say that students would be able to understand the information presented to them in greater detail, by identifying different parts that make up their information, and how they connect and relate to each other. An effective use of this system would be subjects such as chemistry, physics, biology since to have a deep understanding of these subjects would require the learner to know the connections and relationships between the many different facts and concepts within it. Instead of reading off of a textbook or being told the facts, learning would become much more engaging if it were to be transformed into an interactive media, where not only does the process itself become more engaging, but so does student’s engagement in the learning.

Before I started to invest ridiculous amounts of time into the game DotA 2, I was just playing the game with my friends for our own enjoyment. At this point, my grades were fine, and I did my work on time. Weeks passed, and I was slowly beginning to play more; the reason being that I had just watched what the professional players of the game were able to do. I was in awe of the way they played, with their years of experience and deep knowledge of the game. These guys had executed their plans with ease and adjusted their strategies as they saw fit to ensure a higher chance of victory. Even when it seemed like a battle was clearly one-sided, these players recomposed and adapted to the enemies' plays to win the match. So naturally, after seeing these players in action, I wanted to improve myself. And the most effective way to do that is by raising my rank, so I could play in higher levels of the game to learn from better players. Although I was putting more hours into the game, my grades weren’t affected by the change all that much. It didn’t take me long to find a balance between work time and recreational time so that my grades wouldn’t plummet. Now, after playing more than 800 matches, I’m able to efficiently plan out a schedule for my work, and find a clear direction for my projects much quicker since I had already got tons of practice from similar things I had to do to win matches and rank up in the game.

Video games are more than just an interactive form of entertainment. It has the ability to influence its players through the content of the game, reinforced by the mechanics added by the developers. The same ingredients that can brew such an incredible experience in a video game can also be used for academic benefits. It has already been proven that video games make effective tools for learning, as it requires more regions of the brain to actually play the game and to learn from it. If a game was made with the intent to educate or to encourage the skills to improve the learning experience, then there is not a single doubt that the student would learn less from an engaging and responsive form of media, than reading facts from a textbook.

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