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Video Games and the classroom: Engaging Students


In pre-school children learn the absolute basics with simple and fun games that entertain as well as educate. Then later down the road these children are subjugated to a less engaging learning environment where interest fails to permeate the minds of many of these students. Video games are the best way to bring a more engaging and fun learning environment. People are generally more engaged and learn more when they are having fun. Usually fun moments in the classroom stick to a student more than the everyday usual lecture or assignment that has become the norm of most classrooms. Those fun moments can usually come from many things and among those things are games. Video games have the potential to expand the classroom and education of many students.

The Beginning

In the very beginning video games have not been fit for education. They were too simple but nevertheless they were fun. Pong and Space Invaders were among the first video games to exist and were relatively simple. However about thirty years later video games have become much more complicated. They have integrated incredible graphics that many gamers take for granted today. Gameplay has obviously taken a step forward too; allowing games to become even more immersive and engaging than ever. With these new changes potential arises for integrating these games into the classroom. With their complexity they have the ability to offer so much in the field of education. There are already people out there willing to take advantage of video games for educational purposes.

Learning with Portals

One of these examples can be with Valve Corporation. Valve is an American video game company responsible for releasing a number of games. One of these games includes Portal and the recent 2012 sequel Portal 2. Initially Portal was intended by Valve to be a simple small scale game. However love for the game grew among gamers and critics alike and now it has a sequel. Now Valve intends to use Portal 2 to be utilized for educational purposes. Taking advantage of Portal’s robust physics engine, and the recent DLC (downloadable content) containing the ability to create custom chambers to solve, courses have been created that utilize the game as a means of learning concepts and applying them as well. So far the courses are fairly limited to Physics and math based classes. However there is one course available that deals with the setting and plot of Portal 2 which in turn shows how Portal 2 and other video games as well can be used for basic English education.

Education: The Need for Change

Education in school can be quite simply… boring. It’s one of those things that many students have put up with that they don’t particularly care for. They do homework and assignments because they have to; they work on papers because their instructor told them to. They go to school to get their parents off their back and because they have to. School just isn’t that engaging most of the time. People in general usually do well in things they find fun and engaging as well as things they have a genuine interest in. Gamers are an example of these type of people. Dedicated gamers obviously love video games and play them a lot. Therefore most of them become quite skilled at gaming. That’s the key to learning success: get the student interested- they’ll work a lot better if they actually find the work their doing interesting- then keep them engaged and they will continue to work more to the point they actually become good at what they are doing. However given these simple ways, it isn’t possible to completely engage students on everything but teachers can certainly keep their students engaged in at least most subjects. So many teachers fail miserably to understand that feeding information to their students simply isn’t enough. They have to keep it interesting as well.

Unfortunately most schools just don’t want to move forward with this concept of introducing video games into our educational curriculum. There are quite a few professors out there who have lived their life well before video games have even existed. They believe in the traditional ways of education because it is what they are used to, what they have grown up with and most believe it works. They like to think that having students passively listen to monotone lectures and expecting them to pay attention and learn from such an outdated way of learning works. Perhaps it worked back then. However, in this changing society it does not and the sad thing is that many teachers out there choose not to acknowledge it. Therefore they do not bother to let video games and technology in general to enter the classroom and enrich the learning experience for so many students out there begging for something more than just dull lectures.

The first thing that must be done is that video games must be acknowledged as more than just mindless shooters and “more than a compelling toy for children and adults”(Squire, Kurt, p.105, par 4). People don’t take video games as seriously as they should. Many simply look at them as simple, mindless and sometimes violent forms of entertainment and can advocate and teach things that would be frowned upon in society. However be this as it may video games have a lot of good things to teach us as well. They’re forms of entertainment that can both educate and entertain as well. Another form of media that can do these things are movies. Movies are used in classrooms all the time to teach various subjects in school. Many of these films brought into the classroom can both entertain as well as educate students. If entertaining films are being brought into the classroom why can’t video games be brought in as well? In terms of what they can teach students they are basically the same as movies but are a lot more entertaining and more interactive. Things that tend to be more interactive tend to be a lot more educational. This is because students truly learn concepts in school by applying those concepts in some sort of hands on way of thinking. For example, if there is a tutorial on how to do something that students watch and there is an interactive video game of some sort on the same topic, most students will most likely gain a lot more from the video game because it is more hands on. The tutorial is more passive and not as interactive.

As great as video games are in the classroom it is unfortunate that so many do not know how to integrate them into the classroom. How do you take video games and implement them into the learning curriculum and make it work? There is certainly an answer out there however most school boards and professors choose not to pursue it. The same applies to most technology. There needs to be a greater degree of interest among people for it to work. If people don’t dedicate themselves to this than video games may never be able to fit into most classrooms of today.

Civilization III In the Classroom

Besides Portal 2 there are countless numbers of video games out there that are perfect for the classroom. One of these games is Civilization III. The Civilizations games are historical simulations games in which players build up their own Empire over the course of almost the entire span of human history. In an academic journal entitled Changing the game: What happens when video games enter the classroom? Kurt Squire performs a basic case study with a high school History class. He integrates Civilization III into the classroom to determine its effectiveness. He discusses the findings of this case study and its implications in the journal. He finds that most students who found traditional education a struggle found that Civilization III helps quite a bit for them and their understanding of history. Those uninterested in history found that the game helped a great deal in aiding in their educations of history. However this integration also works as a double edged sword. Its complexity in both gameplay and historical density proved to be both a strength and a weakness in the classroom. In contrast to those who loved the game for its density there are those who disliked it for the same reason. Many critics have praised Civilization III but then there are those who criticize it for its density. Some of the students in Squire’s case study disliked the game for its complexity and grew frustrated with it. It is worth noting that most of these students are those who are actually doing quite well in the traditional classroom. This case study by Squire shows how video games in the classroom do help students quite a bit but it is not for everyone. Some of these video games can be too complex for non-gamer students and this should be taken into account when forming curriculum that utilizes these games. It is also not for everyone. Given this fact it should be made as something optional, such as an alternate assignment for example. It shouldn’t be forced upon those who do not believe in Video games as an educational tool.


In the end video games have such a powerful potential for learning. Today’s form of education is very one sided. It focuses on passively feeding information in an uninteresting way and expecting students to immediately understand them in very little time. Video games can change this. They can be a powerful learning tool for the classroom if they could just be integrated properly. If school boards and professors alike can collaborate a way to integrate classes like this around the curriculum it could change education in the classroom for the better.

Works Cited

Williamson, David, et al. "Video games and the future of learning." Phi Delta Kappan 87.2 (2005): 104-111.

Squire, Kurt. "Changing the game: What happens when video games enter the classroom." (2005).

"Teach with Portals." Teach with Portals. Valve, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2012. <>.

Heick, Terry. "The Role of Video Games in the English Classroom." Web log post. Edutopia. Edutopia, 17 Sept. 2012. Web. 22 Nov. 2012. <>.

Guttenplan, D.d. "Harnessing Gaming for the Classroom." The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 Jan. 2012. Web. 30 Nov. 2012. <>.