You might be one who looks at most games and scoffs. “What educational value could this game possibly have?” you might think. Most video games and even collectible games these days seem either too violent, too cartoony, or too simple. Where’s the challenge? Where’s the mental stimulation?
Or, perhaps, you’re one of the millions of people who have discovered how stimulating and challenging games can be. As a gamer from the time I was five years old, I feel I’ve messed with enough games (and messed UP in enough games) to understand the true challenges and learning situations that can come up in all sorts of gaming concepts, from video games to collectible games, RPGs to first-person shooters and beyond. I truly believe gaming can make you smarter!
Gaming Teaches Time and Resource Management
Video games and collectible games alike help us manage time and items better. In Super Mario World for the SNES, you got a “Time Bonus” if you finished the level in a certain number of seconds. The game rewarded you for getting through the level without getting poor Mario killed or dawdling about. Not only that, but if you managed to keep all the lives that Mario was allotted in the beginning, you had them saved for later battles with one or more of Bowser’s children.
Learning to manage time effectively is one of the hardest things to teach kids–I should know, I tried to teach middle-school kids with limited success. If you give most kids a time limit of 15 minutes to do an in-class activity, chances are most of the kids are going to goof around for 10 minutes and then rush to do the assignment in the last 5 minutes. What games teach us is to value the time we’re given to complete an assignment, and to use that time to the best of our ability–i.e., not standing at the beginning of the level for a few minutes looking at the pretty background, but actively moving through it and solving the puzzles that come up.
Resource management is also difficult to teach, but easy to learn through games. While a kid may not understand that he or she only gets limited access to the glue sticks, crayons, and scissors, they can better understand that Mario only gets 5 lives to try to complete this level. Older kids might not be able to grasp that their research papers need accurate and reliable sources to be good papers, but they’ll likely understand what happens if you don’t draw a 7-card hand with enough mana in Magic: the Gathering. (A hand with no land, or mana-producing cards, leads to turns and turns of “I draw. Your turn.”)
Gaming Teaches Long-Term Planning
In HeroClix (“chess with superheroes”), having no plan of attack means you’re likely disadvantaged from the beginning. You have to assess the other player’s team, figure out which piece needs to be defeated first, and decide how best to approach to offset the other player’s strategy. This takes long-term planning, which isn’t always a strong suit for kids or adults alike.
Planning ahead, like time management, takes careful thought, and gaming strategies help people of all ages get more comfortable with how to plan ahead, what to think of ahead of time, and how to make the best of your situation. You can plan too far ahead of your opponent, or plan too far ahead of your road trip, but you can never make too many tweaks to your original plan–that’s the beauty of long-term planning!
Gaming Teaches Diplomacy
In multiplayer games, as in real life, other people’s plans may interfere with yours, or may co-opt or ignore your plans altogether. When you play a multiplayer game like the Resident Evil deck building game, you have to “buy” the resources you need without taking too much away from other players, all while trying to be the player that takes out the most zombies hiding in the Mansion. Some players choose not to be diplomatic, and end up hogging all the resources to themselves; I find, however, that diplomacy serves you well in the long term by allowing everyone to play at their best level.
Diplomacy goes beyond gaming to the classroom and to the workplace. Kids can easily be inclined not to let the other kids have their blue crayon because they’re coloring the sky in their picture; adults can easily be inclined to complain to management if someone else asks to use the room that they unofficially reserved for their special group meeting. By sharing diplomatically instead of taking all the resources for oneself, you encourage better relations among your fellow gamers (or your classmates, or your co-workers)!
Gaming Teaches Critical Thinking
Which card should I play next? Which character should I use to beat this challenge? Games often bring us mental puzzles to work out, which boosts “critical thinking,” a skill I often saw talked about in my teacher literature but which was never quite defined. I think of “critical thinking” as “deeper thinking”–not just “what” something is and “how” it works, but “when” to use it and “why” it was developed.
Going beyond facts to inferences and interpretations stretches the gray matter a good bit, and can get you out of a tight squeeze in Pikmin for Nintendo Gamecube just as easily as it gets you writing for that state test. For instance, just as you have to figure out how many and which types of Pikmin should be in your army for the day by studying what objective you want to complete, you have to figure out how to best present your position on an issue at work. It challenges you to think about the problem in different lights.
Gaming Teaches Multitasking
Games’ multitasking goes beyond hitting two buttons on the controller at once? Most certainly! In HeroClix, you often have two or three pieces going after a couple of objectives at once. You might have dispatched your second-string attacker to go and mop up the support crew of your opponent’s team, while you sent in your first-string attackers to deal with the primary damage-dealer of their team. If you don’t multitask during games, you can find yourself in a bind pretty quick.
It is the same way in our lives–if you don’t multitask, sometimes things don’t get done as quickly as they might need to be. Multitasking is a great skill to pick up because it makes you a more efficient worker. I find that multitasking keeps me from grinding away at the same problem for hours; if I find myself stuck on something, I just switch to another task for a few minutes, accomplish maybe a small goal or two, and then come back to the first task with slightly fresher eyes.
While games are entertaining and great fun, I also find that games can teach us quite a few skills that we’ll need either in the school world or the work world. Try a challenging game sometime, and see how your skills improve!