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Video games and education, a longstanding idea (I)


Learning and playing are twin notions

The educational value of games was utilized for centuries, long before the association between games and learning began to be more deeply analyzed, around the middle of 20th century. The introduction of video games as a learning tool was a natural step in the process. This informative timeline takes us through the  history of educational video games. 

The influence of some great titles launched early on is still valid today. They were able to overcome the limits of video gaming and the traditional notions of education to inspire innovative, exciting and new visions. For example, in 1967, Logo Programming came up with an early educational application to teach programming and mathematical concepts through interactive geometrical or drawing operations. Other applications were then developed with greater focus on the gaming aspect. Lemonade Stand (1973) or Oregon Trail (1971) are two of the earliest examples of games which contributed to the development of a now flourishing industry.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the appeal of combining education and video games has spread and been integrated by more and more specialists, as this selection of books illustrates. Two domains have emerged: the first, as traditional video games began to develop educational content for commercial purposes, the other, via the first EdTech developers, by rethinking the notion of video games and adapting it to the exigencies of education.


Video Games, a new path for education

According to ‘Video Games and the Future of Learning’, “most educators are dismissive of video games. But corporations, the government, and the military have already recognized and harnessed their tremendous educative power.” The authors make the point that even traditional video games can help young people to develop time management skills, leadership skills or some particular epistemic abilities, depending on the theme of the game. They ask the question, “How can we use the power of video games as a constructive force in schools, home and workplaces?” 

Video games can easily be designed for educational purposes, allowing students to build on various skills while engaging in play. Their cognitive benefits tap into other domains beyond the usual subject areas, such as adaptability, social skills and environmental understanding. Educational technology creates re-doable, adaptable and large-scaled learning environments. What the teacher must do with the opportunities these environments offer is establish the subject and the outcome of participation. According to James Paul Gee, the learning principles that educational games incorporate can enhance a commitment to identity, interaction, production, positive risk taking, etc.

The many emerging views on educative video games offer a range of opportunities to explore, develop and manage their use as a tool to foster new and valuable learning experiences. In the second part, we'll adress the new way they engage learners and some examples of companies taking part in this change.