video games in the classroom

Video Game REsearch (continued)

Video Games as an Environment for Engaged Learning
Video games can be an effective educational tool because they make learning fun. Unlike many other activities, however, which lose their appeal after a time, video games motivate sustained engagement in learning, drawing players back to the experience again and again. To understand this phenomenon, University of Minnesota researcher Brock Dubbels interviewed students involved in an after-school health program built around the video game “Dance Dance Revolution.” Combining perspectives from a variety of social learning theories, he concluded that video games immerse the individual in a community of players, which adds a group dynamic even to solitary game play. Through repeated play, the individual gains affiliation with and status within this community, motivated by the same impetus for identity construction that drives personality development in society. With his focus on the video game environment, rather than the tasks and skills involved in game play, Dubbels offers new insights into what makes video games fun for young learners and how this translates into engaged learning. For more information, see

students and teacherVideo Games and Metaphoric Learning
Metaphor theory is a branch of cognitive science that explains how concrete or familiar analogs help people understand unfamiliar or new concepts. Researchers at the Center for Educational Technologies at Wheeling Jesuit University have been testing metaphor theory as a guiding principle in the development of educational video games, which can bring metaphors to life in a virtual world. In 2008, they launched Selene, an online video game that introduces students to the geologic processes that scientists believe formed our Moon through a metaphoric adventure in moon-building, as students create their own moon and then blast it with impact craters and flood it with lava. Data from more than 500 players demonstrate that the game motivates students to work toward specific learning goals and provides them with an understanding of lunar geology. For more information, see

Video Games and Visual Acuity
Contrast sensitivity is the ability to distinguish very slight differences in shades of gray and a primary factor in visual acuity. It has been thought that vision correction is the only way to improve contrast sensitivity, but Daphne Bavelier, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, has discovered that high-action video games can improve contrast sensitivity through training. She compared students who played an action-oriented game like “Call of Duty” for 50 hours over nine weeks to a group that played a game like “The Sims,” which does not require a similar level of visual-motor coordination, and found that contrast sensitivity among the action gamers improved an average of 43%, while the other group showed no improvement. And the positive effects of this visual training were still evident after two years, suggesting that video games might someday offer a form of treatment for certain vision problems. For more information, see

Video Games and Health
Many researchers have explored how video games can promote good health. In recent years, for example, they have developed and tested video games that teach fire safety, good nutrition, other healthy behaviors, games that support self-management of diseases like diabetes and asthma, games that boost self-esteem and build conflict resolution skills, and games designed to reduce childhood obesity through increased physical activity. To gauge the effectiveness of video games as a tool for health care, a team of researchers led by Brian Primack at the University of Pittsburgh conducted an analytical review of studies in this field, focusing on those with data obtained through randomized clinical trials. They found evidence that video games have a positive impact across a wide range of health outcomes, improving 69% of psychological therapy outcomes, 59% of physical therapy outcomes, 50% of physical activity outcomes, 42% of health education outcomes, and 37% of disease self-management outcomes. For more information, see

Video Games Can Teach Biology

The Federation of American Scientists set out to affirm this statement in 2008 with the first release of Immune Attack, a video game that takes students inside the human body to restore functionality to a failing immune system. The game is currently being tested in the classroom by teacher volunteers, and preliminary data indicate that students not only learn the science behind the body’s immune response but also gain confidence with molecular and cellular biology. For more information, see

Research Centers

Center for Children and Technology
Launched in 1980 as a division of Bank Street College, CCT explores the roles that new technologies can play in the lives of young people by conducting research into how technology can influence and enhance teaching and learning.

The Education Arcade
Based at MIT, the Education Arcade conducts research and development projects that demonstrate the social, cultural, and educational potentials of video games, and explore the broader uses of this emerging art form in education.

Games for Learning Institute
A consortium of researchers based at New York University, G4LI is focused on learning how video games work. Researchers study existing games, identify key design elements and learning patterns, develop prototype games based on their findings, test them with students, and evaluate the results.

Health Games Research
This national program, headquartered at the University of California, Santa Barbara, works with game designers to integrate well-tested principles of learning and health behavior change into games that motivate players of all ages to improve their health habits and take better care of their health problems.

USC Game Innovation Lab
This experimental think tank at the University of Southern California investigates all forms of video gaming to gain knowledge about players, the games they play, and how they play them, and then use that knowledge to design games with new and better play mechanics that create satisfying new social interactions and take advantage of innovative technologies.

Return to Video Games in the Classroom➜