By now, you’ve probably heard the buzzwords: “game-based learning” and “gamification” are pervading headlines in education coverage. Video games have always been popular with kids, but now increasingly, educators are trying to leverage the interactive power of video games for learning. Why? It turns out games are actually really good teachers.
Think about the compounding way in which Angry Birds teaches the rules, one baby step at a time, one superpower after another. Video games teach players the skills needed to overcome particular kinds of challenges; then they require a demonstration of mastery in order to move onto the next level. Players may get three or four chances to show their ability to execute the new skill. If they fail, it’s back to the prior level. If they succeed, it’s on to the next.
Think about popular games, old and new: Pac-Man, Mario Brothers, Space Invaders, Minecraft. Even very small kids can learn to play really complex games. Kids play for hours until they master the game, until they discover the patterns. They talk about it with their friends. They share tips. They share tricks. They learn together.
All games facilitate some kind of learning. Even games that are not meant to be educational teach kids something — even if it’s just the rules of the game. The learning is so effective that it deserves our attention. Educational psychologists study it. Sociologists study it. Neuroscientists study it. They’re all trying to figure out what makes the great games work. In some cases, researchers are attempting to isolate and identify the attributes of video games that stimulate engagement and perseverance. It is this kind of research that has led to the “gamification” trend.