Video Games:  Extracurricular or Curriculum?

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My first ever gaming experience was playing Mario Bros on my brand new video game console gifted by my dad on my 9th birthday.

I could play that game for hours and would wait eagerly to get back home from school to spend my evenings with Nintendo’s two most famous plumbers, Mario and Luigi. I was so engrossed in video games that it started to take a toll on my studies.

My English teacher convinced my parents to ban video games at home. 

Fast forward… the world’s perception of video games and their influence on students has changed. With the advent of games such as Minecraft, gamification of education is in full swing.

But while video games can potentially add an exciting new dimension to the growing world of e-learning, it’s important for us to weigh the pros and cons.

Pros of Video game based learning

1. Math. English. Fun.

While video games like MinecraftEdu teaches mathematical concepts like area, perimeter and probability, a city building game like SimCityEdu helps students with subjects like English and foreign languages.

In the best games, you are learning a subject like algebra in a way that you don’t really know you’re learning it. Students end up actually enjoying algebra because it’s like a puzzle. You’re untying a knot and there’s something pleasurable about it.

Daniel O’Keefe, North Carolina regional director at the Institute of Play

"Video Games in Your Classroom? Yes, Please!" tcea.org

“Video Games in Your Classroom? Yes, Please!” tcea.org

Now that I am into teaching, learning + video game is the kinda math I love. 

2. Video Games = Team Spirit

As I said, I am a huge Mario Bros fan and I used to revel in it even more when my friend Jim used to come over to play. I was Mario. He was Luigi. And we were a team.

Team games help in dealing with social anxiety and encourage kids to interact with their peers

Coordination and communication go deeper than the usual banter we have with our conventional teammates in real life. Working together to achieve a common goal to the point that you will sacrifice yourself altruistically, comes quite naturally to gamers.

Vinay Devnath

2. A Portal to technology

When I was a kid, my fascination for video games made me wonder out loud, “How do people create video games?” 

Nowadays, kids are so hooked to these games and the technology that drives them that even complex subjects like computer programming has many takers.

Experts say the trend is likely to increase in coming years, in part because of ConnectED—the White House’s initiative to bring high-speed broadband Internet to essentially all of America’s students by 2018 to promote “interactive, personalized learning experiences driven by new technology.”

Georgia Perry

Gaming can hone students’ technical skills – a useful attribute in our tech savvy world.

3. Individualized learning

With a rising disparity in the student-teacher ratio, the concept of individualized learning is all the more important today.

If I am teaching a class of 40 students, there is no way I can concentrate on the learning of each and every child. But thanks to educational games, individualized learning is not a myth anymore.

Video games allow kids to learn at their own pace:

  • If a student answers questions with ease, then the game offers tougher questions as it proceeds.
  • If a student struggles with a question, the game will pose simpler challenges to them.

This can help gauge each student’s understanding and grasp of a particular subject or topic. This way, teachers like me can gauge the level of understanding of each and every student.

4. Critical thinking

I remember the number of argumentative essays my teachers made me write in order to develop a sound logical voice of my own.

Researchers now claim that even video games can cultivate critical thinking skills. Virtual reality games challenge students with real life-like scenarios, testing their critical thinking and their ability to apply what they learnt.

5. Happy minds

One of the reasons I love video games is that they make me forget my worries for a while.

Video games can act as great stress busters to students who are burdened by pressures of competitive education. Studies show that video games can relax the mind and uplift one’s mood.     

Cons of Video game based learning

1. Video Game Addiction

The biggest risk of learning through video games is its addictive nature.

video_game_addiction

WebMD provides a list of warning signs for gaming addiction:

  • Playing for increasing amounts of time
  • Thinking about gaming during other activities
  • Gaming to escape from real-life problems, anxiety, or depression
  • Lying to friends and family to conceal gaming
  • Feeling irritable when trying to cut down on gaming

While I was saved by my parents and teachers, some kids continue to play games for hours and neglect classroom-based learning of subjects.

Video game addiction can be so strong that kids can lose sight of what’s important in life.

2. Everything else becomes boring

After a rather entertaining and fun session of video-based learning, classical methods of classroom teaching might bore the students, making the learning less effective. 

What we started finding in the early research is it did look like some kids were doing worse in school, harming their friendships, harming their family relationships. They couldn’t stop thinking about gaming, it was the only thing they wanted to do.

Douglas Gentile, psychologist at Iowa State University

When I was a kid, the reason why I failed miserably in completing my homework was not due to a lack of effort but because of the loss of interest in studies due to video games’ addictive nature.

Adding game based learning to the curriculum might overshadow the classroom learning experience.

3. No time for play

Video games can reduce the interest of students in extracurricular activities.

I used to be a decent athlete as a kid and had dreams of becoming one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time. Once I got hooked to video games, I didn’t bother going out to the field to play.

So, not just my academics but even fun activities like sports, music and arts might come as a distant second to video games.

4. Health Issues

Video game addiction can lead to a lot of health problems like:

  • Bad eyesight
  • Mental fatigue
  • Carpal Tunnel syndrome

While I convinced myself that Mario Bros had nothing to do with it, my mother cursed my video games for making me an eyeglasses-clad geek in 5th grade.

I have also seen my college roommate suffer from serious health issues and sleeplessness thanks to 10 hour long sessions of Counter Strike.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are both benefits and downfalls to the gamification of education.

To review, the pros and cons of video game-based learning I discussed were:

Pros of Video Game Based Learning

  1. Math. English. Fun.
  2. Video Games = Team Spirit
  3. A portal to technology
  4. Individualized learning
  5. Critical thinking
  6. Happy minds

Cons of Video Game Based Learning

  1. Video game addiction
  2. Everything else becomes boring
  3. No time for play
  4. Health issues

I totally support video game-based learning as an occasional extracurricular learning activity.

However, since video games can have such adverse effects on children, it is advisable to tread with caution. Before we include games in our curriculum, we have to make sure that no kid falls prey to the dangers that come with it.

Have you played any video games? Do you think they taught you anything? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Ethan is a dedicated private ESL teacher. Apart from his passion for teaching, Ethan loves to write and holds a degree in creative writing. When he is not teaching or writing his book, Ethan loves to blog and is a huge fan of educational technology. You can check out his blog at essaysonline.wordpress.com!

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