Three ways to spend school in-game

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Fallout 3 classroom gameSchool is or will soon be back in session. And if you’re a gamer, your family might try to steer you away from gaming during the semester/school year. Trust me, I know. I still get that and I’m in grad school right now. So you’re probably wondering what you can do to get the most of your games while going through school. Before we get too much further, this isn’t going to be about time management, though time management can be a huge factor in getting your game on. But there are ways to get the most education-related use out of your games by using the various benefits of gaming.

1. Boosting critical thinking skills

Pretty much any game is good for this, especially you’re talking about story-based games. There’s almost always something think about. Just within games with stories, we can see a lot of really interesting work being done. Bioshock asks what happens when our only moral imperative is the one that profits ourselves. If played alongside a reading of Ayn Rand’s work, which might happen in high school or college, you start to get a clearer view of the problems with Objectivist philosophy. The Metal Gear games are also fairly good to look at to see some critical perspectives on things linked to American military and scientific policy from the Cold War to the near future. Grand Theft Auto, while critically playing, becomes less of a “murder/crime simulator,” to quote various liberal and conservative television pundits, and more of a social criticism about class warfare and the horrors of the American dream. Lastly, the Ultima series is strong to look at since it does talking about building moral philosophies and how they can be corrupted due to politics and money. It’s up to the designer to put a critical context in their work, but it’s also important that the player recognizes when the criticism that comes into view. Critical play is something that teachers can help with. There’s more, but for the sake of space, this will do.

2. Tangential learning

Again, there is a lot that goes into the topic of tangential learning. However, the games that tend to do this best are usually within the historical strategy (Total War for example) and RPG  genres. Basically, it’s learning more through reference than anything else. It’s part of the reason why Civilization and Total War have pages on everything from units and strategic use to technology and cities included in the in-game encyclopedia, sometimes giving more detail than at least a Master’s thesis. Or in the case of RPGs, how things like Final Fantasy, among others, either directly or indirectly reference things like literature, mythology, philosophy or religion. Even the Assassin’s Creed series  has a certain level of tangential learning through looking at big picture historical contexts whether we’re talking about political and religious strife in the Crusades or political corruption and discovery within the Renaissance. After all, at the big picture level, you’re in a living world that is at least loosely based on actual history.

3. Math

OK. This one is going to be easy. MMORPGs, strategy and simulation games would be good for this as they can be very resource management heavy. MMORPGs would be good for the internal economy and side, initially player-created, merit-based economies that have risen. There’s a lot of numbers to manage that could directly affect your ability to get certain loot, what you can buy or what you can make. Strategy games, especially ones like Civilization, have you dealing with economics, taxes, investing in sciences, paying a military, etc. This goes back to point #2, but it still bears saying that sometimes games actually do have something to teach while not actively teaching. Simulations like SimCity also deal with some of the same issues as management heavy strategy games. Just cut out the military aspect. Even physics-based games like Angry Birds, properly utilized, can be used to teach things like physics and geometry if you figure things like speed, force, weight, angles, momentum, etc.

There is a lot to actually understand through the use of games. It just depends on a lot of different factors. It depends on the developers putting a well-researched and useful context into their games. A lot of companies have been doing well with that. It depends on the gamers actually looking for these things. But it also depends on teachers actually becoming more educated about the uses of games themselves. An educated body of teachers will be able to couple various gameplay experiences or games themselves with appropriate lessons and more traditional texts. This could lead to a more complete curriculum that would actively engage the student population. Parents can also stand to learn more about how to use and share game experiences as well.

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