Incorporating Video Games into Physical Education: Between Their Popularity and Their Efficient Delivery of Information, Video Games May Help to Enhance Students' Motivation, Understanding, and Performance in Sports

Article excerpt

The growing prevalence of video gaming among young people, particularly males, is often considered to be a contributing factor in the rise of obesity and the shrinking levels of physical activity among youths. This popular belief has been contradicted by studies that have found no relationship between video game play and obesity or physical inactivity (Lager & Bremberg, 2005; Marshall, Biddle, Gorely, Cameron, & Murdey, 2004), or between physical fitness and Internet-use time (Kerner, 2005). However, the unproven association between video gaming and limited physical activity, as well as the persistent stereotyping of video games as predominantly mindless, violent forms of entertainment, has prevented most physical education teachers (as well as the general public) from seeing the potential of video gaming technologies as instructional tools. Notably, the most popular video games are not war games or fighting games, but sports games. Of the 20 top-selling video games in 2006, nine were sports-related games, including Madden NFL 2006, NBA Live 2006, and MVP Baseball 2006 (Entertainment Software Association [ESA], 2006). Such sports games are typically so realistic and complex that college-level and professional athletes use them as part of their ongoing off-the-field training (Machosky, 2005; Rosewater, 2004). Furthermore, playing sports video games seems to be associated with participation in real-life athletic activities (Silberman, 2005a).

This article will show how video gaming is an untapped resource for enhancing young people's motivation and ability to participate in a wide range of sports and other movement-based activities. Many educators have already recognized that technology can be an important means of supporting general learning in schools and particularly in physical education (Fiorentino & Castelli, 2005; President's Panel on Educational Technology, 1997). Various forms of technology have been advocated as tools for physical education, such as digital video clips for the creation of game-like practice situations (Fiorentino & Castelli, 2005) and for mental-skills training (Voight, 2005), or the Internet for activities like webquests to gather information about fitness concepts or other relevant material (Woods, Shimon, Karp, & Jensen, 2004). Commercial video games involving actual physical activity have been adopted with great success in some settings (e.g., Bosman, 2005).

This article focuses on the use of commercial video games that offer sophisticated and engaging simulations of popular team sports, such as basketball and soccer, and paired or individual activities, such as tennis and skateboarding (see table 1 for a list of representative games). The article will describe how such games offer simulated experiences that may enhance students' motivation, confidence, understanding, and performance in athletic activities.

Video Games and Learning

The use of video games for serious educational purposes is drawing attention from a growing number of educators and educational theorists (Aldrich, 2005; Klopfer & Yoon, 2005; Squire & Jenkins, 2003). While games are already being developed specifically for education and training, educators have also been adopting commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games to teach subjects ranging from history to languages (Purushotma, 2005; Squire, 2005). Well-designed COTS games offer a number of advantages for learning, as described in detail by authors such as Aldrich (2005), Gee (2003), and Prensky (2000).

Empirical support for the effectiveness of video games as instructional tools is still rather sparse. The lack of extensive research support is due in part to the relative novelty of the technology, as well as the rapid evolution of this technology over the last decade. Still, there is a small but growing number of empirical studies that provide evidence of various learning outcomes. Research indicates that video games can be used to enhance spatial abilities (de Lisi & Wolford, 2002), motor skills (Fery & Ponserre, 2001), knowledge structures and transfer (Day, Winfred, & Gettman, 2001; Gopher, Weil, & Bareket, 1994), visual selective attention (Green & Bavelier, 2003), and problem-solving skills (Ko, 2002). …