I love playing games, so of course I am going to write a post on why they are awesome. Fortunately, you don’t have to take my word for it. There are psychologists, teachers, administrators, and researchers around the world that advocate game playing for its many benefits. Here are just a few of the many advantages games provide.
Games promote physical, social, and emotional growth.
Outdoor games provide an opportunity for exercise that promotes physical health. A fast game of tag makes maintaining cardiovascular health fun. Whereas walking on a treadmill becomes drudgery often before the end of the very first session. Games like, hopscotch, jump rope, and even leap frog require and improve coordination and strength. There are even dance games, sports games, and fitness games for video game systems that require and improve flexibility, agility, and stamina.
Social growth occurs anytime you have to interact with another human being. Games require communication both in team-based games and individual games. Presenting a particular strategy to teammates can by a complicated feat in communication and a non-threatening venue for practicing leadership skills. Teaching the rules to a new and unfamiliar game requires a well thought out sequence of instructions and a clear transfer of ideas. Even while playing the game communication must continue to establish turn order, clarification of rules, and agreement on the requirements for winning.
Emotional growth is often very difficult to determine or measure. Emotions by nature are internal and personal. Of course, certain emotions are fairly evident like rage, intense grief, or fear, but others are often masked or only rarely have an opportunity to present themselves. Emotions like jealousy, enmity, greed, confidence, courage, kindness, patience, and respect are much harder to determine. Games provide a way for children to practice a wide range of emotional responses in small doses and in a safe setting. A child may get to practice handling jealous feeling toward the winner, or anger toward someone trying to cheat, or frustration at the game not progressing in a favorable way, or kindness toward someone struggling to understand the rules. Games provide an outlet for learning to process these emotions in a temporary setting that is not overwhelming.
Games provide immediate and challenging visual feedback within a fun, safe environment.
The type of stress students experience in the classroom can be intense. Test-taking, assignment deadlines, bad grades, even the fear of being called on to read in class all place pressure on a child. Fear of failure in a school setting is common. Games offer challenges that usually have no lasting consequences if not completed successfully. I say “usually” because if the game is not a voluntary choice then it can carry the same fear of failure and stress as any other assessment. If a child is forced to play dodge-ball when that is not a game that they enjoy or excel in, then the stress of failing can be just as intense as a failing grade. The student may be ridiculed for not playing well, or hurt by the ball from lack of agility to dodge it, or be humiliated by better players. If a game is a voluntary challenge accepted by the individual than the obstacle in the game becomes a goal to be completed no matter how many tries it takes, or how hard the effort to succeed. And if the goal isn’t met then games provide a non-threatening way to try again. Nobody fails 3rd grade for not being able to play Hopscotch through to the end on the first try. It is safe to keep trying. Games also offer immediate and visual feedback for a player. They will know right away if a strategy doesn’t work and can make rapid changes to adjust. Assessments on schoolwork are frequently delayed because of time needed for grading. We have all had papers returned months later. My son recently took our state’s proficiency exam for literature and didn’t get the results back until five months later. The school year was essentially over by then. Games make processing feedback urgent and necessary for success.
Games practice cognitive processing, logical reasoning, and decision making skills.
Conceptual cognitive processes practiced in games include, prediction, experimentation, and evaluation. Analytical processes include diagnosis, planning, detecting causation, and judgement. Social cognitive processes include teamwork, negotiation, and describing. Logical reasoning can include planning, resource management, logistics and pattern recognition. All of these skills transfer to “real life.” Games exercise the brain.
Games help to increase vocabulary.
Almost every game has its own set of vocabulary words. Learning them is essential for playing the game.
More fun = More time spent learning
I am not advocating spending entire days in front of a video game just because it is fun. However, in the case of educational games the more time spent playing the more learning that is taking place. Stamina and strength are increased the longer an active game continues. A child does not willingly spend extra time copying multiplication tables. They might do the assignment because it is required, but it isn’t fun and no one is likely to ask for extra work. A game that teaches multiplication facts, on the other hand, can be engaging and make learning almost effortless. Time will seem to pass much more quickly because the game makes the work of learning fun. The longer a student continues to play, the more opportunity to remember and learn the information.
For more information from experts and researchers in the field check out the following resources:
Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal
Also see Jane McGonigal’s website for an extensive list of research abstracts and other articles at JaneMcGonigal.com
Q2L.org (Quest to Learn) A New York based school developed to engage students through games.