Experts Declare: Gaming is Good!

I am now working on my third degree and I have taken classes at no less than 9 colleges and universities between my first semester as an undergraduate in 2004 and spring semester 2017. Most of the courses were components of working toward a degree but many were also for fun (French 101 at Monroe Community College and Colloquial Egyptian Arabic at the University of Chicago, for example).

In that time I have had exactly two large lecture hall style courses. The first was Introduction to Sociology at Ithaca College in fall 2004 and the second was International Public and NGO Management at Syracuse University in fall 2009. The majority of undergraduate courses I took were pre-digital lectures (no PowerPoint, professors speaking from notes or extemporaneously) and my Master’s and Ph.D. level course work has been mostly discussion based seminars.

My focus has been decidedly social science and humanities and so I allow that my experience is likely quite different than the, perhaps, more rote focused lectures in engineering or physics. Yet, I have to say, I love lectures. I learn very well from sitting and listening to someone with a good grasp on a topic explicating it for an hour. I realize many people do not learn well this way and I certainly wouldn’t advocate this as the sole method of instruction (or in all fields).

But, the lectures I have been fortunate to attend (even the two large lecture halls) have also been reflective and interactive. Instructors didn’t simply read off faded notes. Questions were encouraged and posed to the class. So, in my (again particular, situated) experience lectures can have the benefits that Robert Talbert describes. They can be great for giving context and for telling stories. Good lecturers are in many ways performers. They present material in interesting and entertaining ways and that facilitates, at least for me, learning.

As I noted, I am acutely aware of the plurality of learning styles, needs, and preferences and that not everyone learns best this way (or enjoys sitting through a lecture). In light of this, I’m very much in favor of finding what works and, per Mark C. Carnes, incorporating games (of all sorts) into education. I’ve always liked video games and chafed at the idea that they can’t be art or that they are waste of time, etc. I and others I know learned a lot of history in middle school from playing through campaigns in Age of Empires in which Saladin’s forces face off against European crusaders. And who can forgot learning the valuable lesson of only shooting as much buffalo meat as you can carry from marathon sessions of Oregon Trail in elementary school. The below video even says the game was created to teach history!

I was also a Dungeons and Dragons player in my salad days and I learned, for example, what a halberd and a glaive were that way. Not only that, but such games teach problem solving skills: Do I negotiate with or stab this goblin? D&D (as those of us in the know call it) involves a lot of math and literacy skills as well. I learned that rolling a 1 on a 10-sided die is the same probability of rolling a 1 or 2 on a 20-sided.

In any case, text-based and creative role playing games like this, and the more explicitly educational versions Carnes writes about can be great educational tools. I would have loved to take one of his classes. We did a lot of role-playing/simulations in my international relations Master’s program, in fact the program’s capstone project is a cohort-wide (~100 students) two day simulation of UN climate change negotiations and it was a great experience. There can be no doubt that, as sociolingiust James Paul Gee (2003) argues, (video) games can teach us in various ways.

Finally, I’m aware I started my post-secondary education right at the cusp of the digital education age in a sense (my first semester of college we actually filled out paper course request forms!) and so my experience straddling that line may be different than the “digital natives” of a half or full generation behind me. Yet, I want to be careful not to, excuse the gruesome metaphor, throw the baby out with the bath water. We should take seriously the idea not only of a shift from “a teacher-oriented system featuring lectures delivered to passive audiences” to a “learner-centered process in which students become more actively involved in their own education” but an incorporation of both types of learning and teaching. There are those, such as me, for whom the former works well and is an enjoyable way to learn. I can’t be the only one? Can I?


Gee, James Paul. 2003. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Second Edition. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

13 thoughts on “Experts Declare: Gaming is Good!”

  1. I love that you brought up Dungeons and Dragons. I too have had the opportunity to play this along with a great number of other strategy-type and/or role-playing games. I think that there could be an interesting evolution of course make-up if we were to incorporate such elements. These games could serve as the final leap. First, there’s a lecture or some form of conveying information. Next, the game encourages application of concepts and an extension of learning.

    1. I agree. If I’m remembering correctly, I had a high school English class in which creation of games was part of the curriculum. I think it worked in such a way that we read a specific book (let’s say The Great Gatsby) and then we had to design a board game that took you through the important plot and thematic points. I think integrating playing/designing games that apply the concepts seems really fruitful.

  2. This is off topic but… Colloquial Egyptian Arabic? I just have to say I think that would have been a totally awesome class!

    Going back to the thoughts in your post, I totally agree with you when you brought up the idea of “an incorporation of both types of learning and teaching.” You are right, you cannot be the only one. I also believe that a one-size-fits-all intervention for effective teaching does not exist; what I do end up thinking about is the need for instructors to be sensitive to what is going on in their classroom at a particular moment, and listen to the unique needs of the equally unique individuals before them. What may work for the same course last semester may not work this semester, because the students in the class now may have different preferences and needs. How can this be done? I have yet to find out… Great post, thank you!

  3. I remember playing a math game on the original apple computers my elementary school had in the computer lab. You had to solve problems to progress through a cave, avoid pirates, and reach the treasure chest at the very end. Despite hating math class, I LOVED that game. It made learning a difficult and undesirable subject fun! I agree that digital games can be a useful tool to more effectively engage students in learning.

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