We have evidence that teenagers who regularly play online video games get higher than average grades in OECD-administered maths, science, and reading exams. So we should be past asking if playing video games can help with schoolwork.
What really does matter is not just if games can help, but what games can help and why. Grasping a deeper and more granular understanding of the effects of specific games upon the performance, learning and behaviour of students is important. We already understand a lot and the research is ongoing.
Evidence of positive effects of playing video games
Evidence that teenagers who regularly play online video games received higher than average grades in OECD-administered maths, science, and reading exams was published in a study entitled “Internet Usage and Educational Outcomes Among 15-Year-Old Australian Students”. This research was carried out by Alberto Posso (co-author of this piece) and published in Issue 10 (2016) of the International Journal of Communication.
The study uses regression analysis applied to data for over 12,000 15-year-old students across Australia. It found that students who play online games obtain higher scores in maths, reading and science than the average student. So it is possible that a number of skills associated with online gaming correlate positively with generalised knowledge and the skills needed to do well in maths, reading and science tests. Indeed, there are a few studies out of psychology, for example, which suggest that many online games require players to solve puzzles that, in turn, require some understanding of these three subjects.
Some scholars have argued that video games, particularly massive multi-player online games, foster a range of skills that promote higher order thinking, which could potentially lead to improvements in maths and literacy. The findings in the study give some support to this notion, although it could be argued that people good at maths and science already play a lot of games anyway. Indeed, currently there are many strong arguments with supporting evidence, including the above-mentioned study, detailing the value of digital game play.
Many games clearly draw out elevated levels of critical thinking and complex puzzle solving. They also help players develop perseverance and build resilience in the try-fail-retry cycle without incurring actual real world costs.
As far as teachers and parents are concerned, the questions might be “should we encourage kids to play certain video games?” On the margin, spending more time on games should have some positive effect on performance, at least in generalised tests such as the one conducted by the OECD.
Which games to play and why
Even though the study did not look at what games improve performance, in games like The Sims, Civilization, Minecraft and Counterstrike, gamers play at ensuring a family is housed, fed, clothed and given activities to engage and be challenged, or at becoming proficient in manipulating a large set of resources and variables to be able to build a more lasting society, or collaborate with friends and strangers to create an interactive playground, or work as a crack army team to capture a location. These are all abilities that go well beyond simply being experts at playing a particular game.
Therefore, digital games explore, challenge and celebrate most aspects of being human and our imagination. So not only should we encourage digital game play, we should be compelled to make formal associations with them in education practice. Children are growing up with hour upon hour of informal game education, whilst western society continues to disparage the act of play and vilify the games that are the most dominant form of cultural activity for many.
Games-literate students and teachers
It is important to demonstrate the value of building healthy, games-literate students and school communities. It is vital to build this literacy not just for self-serving reasons but to build a cache of abilities in individuals that are transferrable over a large array of work, social and personal situations.
By learning through selected gameplay, students gain knowledge and skills relevant to the way things work in our everyday lives and the world of work. Students build creative and critical thinking skills as they create and code to express ideas, solve problems or respond to challenges in the games they play. Students and teachers need to be inspired to develop an understanding and appreciation of the role videogames play in people’s lives today.
Alberto Posso is an Associate Professor of Economics at the International Trade and Development Research Group in the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), where he has been employed since 2009. Alberto holds a PhD in Economics from the Australian National University (ANU) with specialisations in labour economics, development, and applied econometrics. His work aims at generating evidence based policy advice to developing countries at both the national and community level. Geographically, his area of specialization covers East Asia, Latin America and the Pacific. Alberto has approximately 30 peer-reviewed publications in prestigious outlets. He also has a growing international reputation as evidenced by his keynote address at the APEC Labour and Social Protection Network meeting in Arequipa, Peru on May 2016, adjunct appointments in universities in Ecuador and Vietnam, as well as a series of invitations to give seminars in reputable academic, government and international institutions.
Vincent Trundle is the Designer and Lead for a great new 3 year ACMI/Victorian Government partnership program – Games Net – where students from across Victoria create videogames online, together with help from mentors and industry bodies across Australia.. He is focused on incorporating digital and online content including videogames, video and similar technologies to improve education practice (with the underlying goal of building more contented, inquisitive and social individuals). He has been a key team member creating and facilitating several online resources for the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) including the internationally recognised online creative studio space Generator. He manages the moderation and user interaction with all online facets of ACMI’s Education presence. Throughout ACMI’s formative and audience building years he has been pivotal in the development of content incorporating the technical infrastructure for a pioneering range of popular and engaging education programs. Vincent’s broad background includes lecturing on film production at RMIT University, management of the Australian Traineeship System and video production.
The Education in Games Summit is a not for profit yearly event presented by the Victorian Department of Education, ACMI Education and Creative Victoria as part of Melbourne International Games Week. It recognises the importance of digital games in society and aims to inform and empower teachers to better incorporate this media into their curriculum. 7 November at ACMI, Federation Square, Melbourne.