Video Game Research in Cognitive and Educational Sciences

By Rebetez, Cyril; Betrancourt, Mireille | Cognitie, Creier, Comportament, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Video Game Research in Cognitive and Educational Sciences

Rebetez, Cyril, Betrancourt, Mireille, Cognitie, Creier, Comportament


This work reviews several aspects of the growing research field interested in video games. First, the evolution of this media in the educational field is discussed. Three different fields interested in the cognitive impact playing of video games are reviewed: abilities and skills, attitudes and motivation, knowledge and content learning. However, most studies used video games as new experimental materials and tasks to contribute to their specific field (i.e., attention and perception), and not as a scientific object of interest per se. We claim that the research on video games is in need of a conceptual and methodological framework in which results and effects could be compared, interpreted and generalized. We argue that video games can have multiple effects on players and that these effects can be used as educational potentials. An empirically-based classification of games, depending on their potential effects for an educational purpose, is strongly needed. Likewise, a unified research paradigm and methodologies to carry on reliable research on video games has to be developed.

KEYWORDS: video games, simulation, education.

In the last decades, video games have been increasingly appealing not only as an entertainment for children and adults, but also as an object of interest in academic research. A large body of studies investigated the potential of information technology as tools for learning, and particularly of games specifically designed for educational purposes. Recently, a growing interest has appeared for the potential of mainstream games in education (in or out of the classroom). The basic claim of this line of research is that videogames may have beneficial educational impacts (Prensky, 2005), but few empirical findings reinforce this assumption.

On the other hand, psychology and cognitive sciences research have investigated the effect of video games on the players, following two directions: A first body of research aims at measuring the effect of playing video-games on cognitive abilities (perception, visual attention) and on development and personality (particularly on aggressive behaviors). A second body of research appeared recently within the theoretical framework of the multimedia learning community, in which content-based video games are considered as a particular interactive multimedia instructional material. In both cases, the video game is used as a particular task or material but its specificities are not taken into consideration. The effects of playing video games on cognitive and perceptual abilities, emotional responses and knowledge acquisition emerged in the literature, but they remain very disparate and inconsistent. Moreover, despite formal differences, the psychology research never compared the effects of different types of games on the developed assessments. This paper will review researches from different fields of cognitive studies involving video games in order to show the actual interests, but also the remaining lack of common paradigms.


A problem with video game research, as often with information technologies, is the quick evolution of the media over the years. Video game research is only a few decades old but meanwhile its object has changed a lot. As Kirriemuir and McFarlane (2004) reminded, it is hard to compare an early textbased adventure game with next generation high-definition first-person shooters. Some constitutive rules of games and their ability to catch our attention completely, called "immersion" (MacMahan, 2003), can remain comparable over the ages. But the games that people play today have diversified and evolved in numerous directions. The change from penny arcade video games to networked personal consoles and home computers modified our relation to virtual play. Advances in game design and ergonomics also made game designers adapt their products. The market evolved from a limited and specialised phenomenon to mass market strategies. …

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