Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Video Games: Play That Can Do Serious Good

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Video Games: Play That Can Do Serious Good

Article excerpt

The authors review recent research that reveals how today's video games instantiate naturally and effectively many principles psychologists, neuroscientists, and educators believe critical for learning. A large body of research exists showing that the effects of these games are much broader. In fact, some types of commercial games have been proven to enhance basic perceptual and cognitive skills. These effects are significant enough that educators use these games for such practical, real-world purposes as training surgeons and rehabilitating individuals with perceptual or cognitive deficits. Although many individuals may still consider video games nothing more than mindless fun, the authors argue that games serve also as serious tools for good. Key words: job training and video games; video games and cognition; video games and learning; video games and the elderly

Over the last half-century, video games have evolved from crude contests played by a few enthusiasts to richly immersive worlds enjoyed by bil- lions of people around the world. Games have become big business, bringing in more than sixty billion dollars in global revenue annually (Gaudiosi 2012). They are increasingly recognized as an artistic medium too, as institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art (Antonelli 2012), the Smithsonian (Smithso- nian 2012), and The Strong feature them. Moreover, games have evolved as novel and effective teaching tools (Gee 2003, 2005; Gentile and Gentile 2008). Today's video games are much more than simple entertainment. They also fight against declining mental capacities in old age, promote job-related skills, and offer models of how to teach children complex tasks and abilities. In hindsight, this may not be surprising.

Video game sales thrive because of good advertising, their ready availability in the market, and their relationships to other, familiar game forms. But video games also prosper because players find them enjoyable. The fun in playing video games depends largely on the games' effectiveness in teaching players to succeed. More impressively, video games need to teach players to succeed on a set of tasks that are initially quite difficult. Consumers would not want to play video games they have already mastered from the start; nor would they want to play video games they can never master. Essentially, a game designer needs to ensure that players do fail (if they always succeed, there is nothing to learn) but that this failure does not seem insurmountable, that it even seems fun (Juul 2013).

As we present in this article, modern video games instantiate and dem- onstrate many key principles that psychologists, educators, and neuroscientists believe enhance learning and brain plasticity. This, in turn, has led some sci- entists to consider the possibility that video game play may produce not just improvements in the ability to play the games but may, in fact, result in more fundamental changes in the way players see the world and process information. It has also led to a burgeoning field that uses video games-even those designed purely for entertainment-in a variety of practical applications, from training individuals with cognitively and perceptually demanding jobs (e.g., military pilots and endoscopic surgeons) to rehabilitating individuals with deficits in particular types of visual or cognitive processing (e.g., individuals with amblyo- pia or with dyslexia). In all, what began as simple play has become something with significant real-world relevance.

What Makes Games Effective Teaching Tools?

Whether by careful design or simple trial-and-error, modern video games have come to incorporate many of the best practices known to those interested in learning. This starts with creating an environment that encourages users to invest substantial amounts of time in learning. As every educator knows full well, one of the best predictors of learning is time on task (Greenwood, Hor- ton, and Utley 2002). …

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