Educational Games


Games and games-based learning have been a part of education for decades. However, with new technological advances, digital games have recently emerged as a new teaching tool. Neuroscience has proven that "Games are tailor made to fit the very different tasks animals and humans will face." (Frost, Wortham, and Reifel, p. 66)



An educational game is a game designed to teach humans about a specific subject and to teach them a skill. As educators, governments, and parents realize the psychological need and benefits of gaming have on learning, this educational tool has become mainstream. Games are interactive play that teaches us goals, rules, adaptation, problem solving, interaction, all represented as a story. They give us the fundamental needs of learning by providing - enjoyment, passionate involvement, structure, motivation, ego gratification, adrenaline, creativity, social interaction and emotion. "Play has a deep biological, evolutionarily important, function, which has to do specifically with learning." (Prensky, p. 6) 


"The first step towards understanding how computer games can transform learning and education is changing the widely shared perspective that games are “mere entertainment”. It it more than just a multi-billion dollar industry and more than a compelling toy for both children and adults, computer games are important because they let people participate in new worlds. They let players, think, talk and act - they let players inhabit - roles otherwise inaccessible to them. These virtual worlds are what makes games such powerful contexts for learning. In virtual worlds, learners experience the concrete realities that words and symbols only describe" (Global Conflicts Press Kit)


The 2007 Horizon Report first focuses on the implementation of social networking and mobile phones explosion in less than two year and has been correct. If the trend remains, then in 2011 according to the Report we should see a massive increase in virtual worlds, scholarships based on videos and game creation, and lastly within the next two year Massively Multiplayer Educational Gaming. These forms of education through teaching, learning, and creative expression will be the cornerstone of educational gaming in the near future. Interactive gaming on a single level is currently in use social networking with educational gaming will become a revolutionary form of education. 


According to the 2010 Horizon Report, games are a way for students to experience the struggles and successes of collaboratively working towards a solution to a complex problem set within an interesting storyline. It also points out that although games have been a staple in classrooms for years, “…they are single-player or turn-based rather than truly collaborative." The report defines three types of educational gaming  - "games that are not digital; games that are digital, but that are not collaborative; and collaborative digital games." The primary focus of this discussion is digital games that are not collaborative and some collaborative digital games. Not collaborative games are single player type games and collaborative digital games are multiplayer games requiring players to interact with each other. Some Examples of digital games that are not collaborative are Typing Instructor, Cell Craft, and Simcity. An Example of collaborative digital games are World of Warcraft, Moonbase Alpha, and Americas Army. 


Collaborative digital games allow students to work with others and develop deep thinking and problem-solving skills rather than just memorization of a topic. One example of these types of games are massively multiplayer online games. Rather than a single dimension of play, Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG) include a number of “sub-games or paths of engagement that are available to players” (Horizon Report). The various levels of engagement require students to work both on their own and within a group to accomplish a pre-determined goal within a storyline. The games are challenging and often force students to research the topic further outside of the game in order to understand and succeed.




Many scholars understand the advantages of games in learning. Some of those that strongly support that Serious Games should become a integrated part of learning in the classroom are Marc Prensky, Clark Quinn, Carly Schuna and the numerous authors behind the Horizon Reports. 


The article “Serious Games for Serious Topics” by Clark Quinn at eLearn Magazine studies the fact that serious games create a hands-on, minds-on opportunity that allows players to actively focus, create and change a scenario while simultaneously learning about consequences of choice in the situation. As students become more engaged and committed to succeeding in the game, they become more willing to learn about the scenario the situation is taking place in. They begin to care about learning more about the topic and how to solve the problem. As the article points outs, “It’s the difference between watching a nature documentary and going backpacking in the wilderness.” (Quinn) Rather than just memorizing new material like you would watching a documentary, serious games allow students to become active participants in discovering new ideas, information and solutions to problems while also allowing them to feel the tension and suspense of the crisis. This development of real interest through digital games can already be already seen in several businesses. America’s Army, a digital game created to help boost military recruitment numbers, is one example of businesses using a game to help develop employee interest in a topic. “Since its release, different versions of the war game have been downloaded more than 40 million times since its download.” (Holmes)


Playing educational games also help us and children with focus, self esteem, and memory. Educational games can help a child focus because they are being patient while waiting to achieve getting to the next level. Playing these games help their self esteem because sometimes they get a quicker reaction from the game system and they can really see how they have accomplished something. In the games there are milestones that the children will have to reach and at the end of each stage they receive something that they will have to have in the next stage. This is also where their focus comes into play because they will take their time to make sure they do things correctly so that they may go on longer in the game (Schuna)


A primary advantage of educational games is that students can work on multiple skills and subjects across the curriculum at once. The 2010 Horizon Report expands on this idea and includes a long list of benefits from “open-ended, challenge-based, truly collaborative games” such as MMOs. Using games of this type can open opportunities for students to work on skills in all areas of traditional education while at the same time including research skills, problem-solving and leadership. 


In conclusion, Prensky argues that children are naturally motivated to play games. Serious Games are interactive play that teach students goals, rules, adaptation, problem solving, interaction, all represented as a story. They give them the fundamental needs of learning by providing enjoyment, passionate involvement, structure, motivation, ego gratification, adrenaline, creativity, social interaction and emotion. "Play has a deep biological, evolutionarily important, function, which has to do specifically with learning."(Prensky, p. 6) 


     1. Games are a form of fun. That gives us enjoyment and pleasure.

     2. Games are form of play. That gives us intense and passionate involvement.

     3. Games have rules. That gives us structure.

     4. Games have goals. That gives us motivation.

     5. Games are interactive. That gives us doing.

     6. Games are adaptive. That gives us flow.

     7. Games have outcomes and feedback. That gives us learning.

     8. Games have win states. That gives us ego gratification.

     9. Games have conflict/competition/challenge/opposition. That gives us adrenaline.

     10. Games have problem solving. That sparks our creativity.

     11. Games have interaction. That gives us social groups.

     12. Games have representation and story. That gives us emotion. (Prensky)  



In his video for, video game designer Jesse Schell outlines a few of the problems schools face with integrating serious and MMO games into the current curriculum.


The first point he makes is that “games don’t fit well on a time table.” It’s hard to determine how long it will take a student to accomplish sub-goals and ultimately finish a game, which can pose a problem for teachers wanting to outline how long classroom units should take. While we could set a deadline for when students must end the game and move onto a new unit, we also run into the problem of students feeling discouraged from not successfully finishing a game. If we allow students to stay on a game until they finish, we run the risk of some students falling behind others. It also creates much more for the teacher to keep track of.


Schell goes on to point out that because each group plays their own game, they’re likely to encounter a completely different experience from someone playing the same game, but making different decisions two seats down. This difference in experiences also mucks up the traditional teaching method of each student learning from the same material with the same experiences. It also leads into another problem that Jesse points out- if each student is learning and experiencing something different, teachers will have a much more difficult time keeping track of who has learned what. These are issues that can be solved, but schools need to be informed of them before introducing these games to the curriculum.


Another disadvantage of using games as part of the curriculum is the chance of over-use. When students and teachers begin to rely too heavily on the use of video games to learn or review material, they risk losing the skills that allow them to function outside of a digital source. (Zafar) These skills have been in decline since many children and adults are becoming addicted to video games. "Video gaming problems are often defined like problem gambling or alcoholism."(Zafar) Social Interaction must be physical as well as mental and this is one of the shortfalls of Educational Gaming without classroom interaction.

Examples of Classroom Uses: 


The New York City school Quest to Learn is a great example of how curriculum can be structured to allow for students to work collaboratively on units and work together to solve problems. They also frequently use games to help students experience and have a deeper understanding of the material they study. (Horizon Report)


This video from EduTopia demonstrates a classroom of students successfully using a technological game-like program to integrate multiple educational subjects into an interesting collaborative learning experience. 



The following video from CBS's "The Early Show" is a look at another classroom successfully using a collaborative game to discover ideas about history and war.



Resources for Classroom Use:


The following is a list of educational games that could be included in classrooms. They are divided by type of game and educational subject.


Non-Collaborative Digital Games



Leapfrog Reading Software - This is a commercially-based company that provides hands-on electronic based books for learning to read interactively. Can be given to children and self teaches reading if the child know the basic concepts. Used to teach younger students but IEP and children with disabilities will enjoy also.



Placespotting – This is a geography-based game using Google Maps. A picture is shown with clues or description of events and the students must find the location. Can be played in class or homework.



Calculation Nation - Developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the site offers students in elementary and middle school "online math strategy games that allow them to learn about fractions, factors, multiples, symmetry and more, as well as practice important skills like basic multiplication and calculating area — all while having fun."


Online Math Learning- Presents an online Math assistance by subject and grade that includes videos, games, activities and worksheets that are specific to grade level or subject.



Cell Craft- This is an educational very fun game created by Digital Media & Learning Competition and Dr. Jed Macosko at Wake Forest University and Dr. David Dewitt at Liberty University. It teaches about the cells, their structure and how a cells survives a hostile environment.


Social Studies/History:

Global Conflicts - Global conflicts is an "award-winning" series of educational games designed to allow students (ages 13-20) to learn about various conflicts around the world and the underlying themes of democracy, human rights, globalization, terrorism, climate, and poverty. Each game includes a teacher package with a PowerPoint presentation of the episode and the related topic, minimizing teachers´ preparation time. Each game presents different historical, religious, social, economic and political reasons behind the conflicy. The games also come with a teachers’ manual, a topic overview, student worksheets and online resources.

Betwixt Folly and Fate, an immersive 3-D role playing game that places players in 1774 Williamsburg as one of four characters. As players pursue their characters' goals, they explore a large portion of eighteenth-century Williamsburg, Virginia, roaming the streets and meeting people in shops, taverns, the Courthouse, and private homes. The town is populated with dozens of characters, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry. Players may also bargain for goods with shopkeepers and try their hand at several colonial games.


Multiple Subjects:

Quiz Hub - A bank of quizzes, puzzles and reviews to help students drill material.


Collaborative Digital Games 

Gamestar Mechanic - Teaches students how to create a game while playing a game.



DimensionU- Math, Science and Literacy Video Games - "DimensionU is a video game-based learning resource for K–12 students. In DimensionU, students can access 3D multiplayer educational video games that help them hone their math and literacy skills, connect with friends, and compete and collaborate while learning." (DimensionU)


Mithril, a multiplayer online role-playing game developed by students at Stanford University. Mithril draws on the look and feel of MMOs but is math-based; players must master mathematical concepts in order to cast spells, defeat foes, and progress in the game.” (2010 Horizon Report)


Moon Simulation Survival:

Moonbase Alpha- After a lot of research NASA created this game free for classroom use. Downside is you must download it on Stream, which is not available on Public School Computers. Using the Unreal 3 Engine (UDK), Moonbase Alpha allows for single player and team play using VOIP chat.


Multiple Subjects:

26 Learning Games to Change the World - A list of games put together by Jeff Cobb at the Mission to Learn website. Many of the games will donate to charitable causes for playing and students learn more about the issue or topic behind the game as they play. Includes everything from Darfur to Politics to World Hunger to Business.


Food Force 2- Is a freeware game based on the earthquake in Haiti. The purpose of this game is to provide humanitarian relief to haiti. This game was created to educate and motivate people to solve world hunger and social problems. 


Miscellaneous Sites:

These websites are bank sites, meaning they contain lists of potential links to sites of games and references.’s Top 100 Educational Web Sites of 2008 - This site includes multiple references, along with games.


50 Great Sites for Serious, Educational Games - Numbers 9-20 along with 25-50 are best for classroom use.


Virtual Learning: 25 Best Sims and Games for the Classroom - Collaborative games separated by subject.




Game Rubric: Assessing Student Learning in Virtual Simulations and Serious Games



Ellis, Ken. “Animation as a Pathway to College and a Career.” 16 Sept 2010. The George Lucas Educational Foundation. 5 Feb 2011.  <>


Frost, Joe, Sue Wortham, and Stuart Reifel. Play and Child Development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall, 2008.


Holmes, Jamie. “US Military is Meeting Recruitment Goals with Video Games – But at What Cost?” Christian Science Monitor. 28 Dec 2009. 31 Jan 2011 <>


Johnson, Laurence F., Alan Levine,  and Rachel S. Smith. The 2007 Horizon Report. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium, 2007. <


Johnson, Laurence F., et al. The 2010 Horizon Report: The K12 Edition. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium, 2010. <


Krumholz, Honey. “Classroom Games Serve Many Purposes Here’s How to Use Them!!” n.d. 5 Feb. 2011. <>


“Massively Multiplayer Online Game – Definition.” 2010. 5 Feb. 2011. <>


Prensky, Marc. "Fun, Play and Games: What Makes Games Engaging." Digital Game-Based Learning. McGraw-Hill, 2001. 30 Jan. 2011. <>


"Press Kit: Global Conflicts." Serious Games International. n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2010. <>


Quinn, Clark, and Lisa Neal. “Serious Games for Serious Topics.” eLearn Magazine. 30 Jan. 2011  <>


Schell, Jesse. “Playing Games in the Classroom.” 23 July 2010. 3 Feb. 2011. <>


Schuna, Carly. "The Advantages of Learning Games for Kids." 21 Aug 2010. LiveStrong. 3 Feb. 2011 <>


Zafar, Amina. “Video Game Addiction: Does It Exist?” 16 Sep 2010. CBC News: Health. 30 Jan. 2011 <>