Video games as learning tools

Games are an amazing way to learn without really knowing it is happening. Games are fun. Games make learning fun. Games allow students to choose how they engage the content and material. With games learners are taken out of the traditional model of learning by rote, having the information shoved into our heads in order to be spewed out later for the test and placed in a world where we are in control of what and how we learn. As adult learners we are well aware that excellent learning, learning that sticks with us and keeps us engaged does not follow a cookie cutter model of rote memorization and doing the same thing in the same way. If we understand this and follow the self-directed model of learning we have been learning about throughout this program we discover that games are indeed one of the best places to learn many things like problem-solving, critical thinking and negotiation skills as well as the desire to continue learning. Game-based learning is often like the Montessori system as discussed by Squire (2011). Many games grow organically based on the natural choices of the gamer just as many Montessori students learn organically based on their natural interests and choices. This makes both gaming and learning “normal” in that they occur naturally rather than “normed” in that they follow a set standard or pattern. Learning in that organic, natural state is like breathing, we don’t realize we are doing it until we stop.

I dream of teaching history at some point in my life and there are many games I would use to help my students engage in a subject that has been poorly taught for many years. These are games I play myself simply for the experience and pleasure they bring me. Many I played in their board game format in high school classes with teachers who were very forward thinking. Many are games I have picked up over the years because of the content and, honestly, the ability to mash up the history even just a little. Two of these games are Diplomacy and Civilization. Diplomacy is a game where you are placed in historical Europe (usually during the Napoleonic era) and your goal is to conquer all of Europe. I played the board game version of Diplomacy in my high school world history class as a supplement to the course material we were learning. The teacher broke us up into teams (countries) and we had to decide what we were going to do each turn as far as protecting our region and gaining control of other regions. We had to learn how to problem-solve and negotiate with each other and other teams as we worked out treaties or terms of surrender. I have had the PC version of the game for years and found that it was not quite as exciting or engaging sitting alone playing against a computer. However, I have recently stumbled upon the online version of the game which brings back the need for those problem-solving and negotiation skills because you have to be able to work with people from around the world in order to make the game work. What I envision for my class is similar to what happened in my high school class. I would break the class up into teams that would be specific countries within the game and then set up a game on the website for them to sign into and start playing.  Since this can be a very prolonged turn-based game it would be an ongoing game over the period of the course. At two week intervals I would ask the groups to report back to me about how the game is going and about any obstacles they had to overcome or problems that needed to be solved in order to keep the game going. I would also ask them to relate their game experience to the historical experience in Europe and how the use or misuse of diplomacy and diplomatic skills can help or hurt alliances and national cohesion.

Civilization is a simulation game like SimCity where you can play against the computer or other people. In the game you are given a map and
you start building your own civilization based on one of the most recognized human civilizations of your choosing. Generally you start off in the Stone Age and build up from there over the next 2000 years; however, you can set up your own personal scenarios and map layouts depending on how long you want to play or what you are trying to accomplish. The interesting thing about Civilization, and one of the reasons I personally enjoy playing it, is that you are not stuck with following the history as we know it. This is mentioned in chapter six of the Squire book where he discusses using the game in a high school social studies class (2011). You are able to simulate any scenario you wish from the Chinese discovering Europe to the Native Americans discovering Africa. The game offers many wonderful learning nuggets for a history course like the connections between geography, history, economics, politics, religion and military skill. Understanding these connections is vital in taking the study of social studies and history beyond the typical list of people, dates and battles and showing how one area connects to another. This is why I would incorporate Civilization into my classroom.  Placing students in charge of their own civilizations requires them to learn how to manage all of those connections and the resources that come with them. They are forced to critically think and problem-solve in order to succeed. They are also allowed to don new personas and experiment with ideas and rules in a way they are not allowed to do by simply going through the textbook. This critical reflection engages students in what they are learning and builds an understanding of why something worked or did not work throughout history and in some ways creates better citizens out of my students.


Normal (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. Retrieve from

Squire, K. (2011). Video games and learning: Teaching and participatory culture in the digital age. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

4 thoughts on “Video games as learning tools

  1. Hello Erica:

    The games you mentioned and described sound exciting and will motivate your learners to the moon and beyond. We need this type of teacher involvement and working beyong what is required. Teaching in the field of education today requires motivation, enthusiam, creativity and an honest desire to assist out learners. You will do well whatever you dcide to teach.

    Your penguins are cute!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Thank you Dennie! I really want to bring that motivation, enthusiasm, creativity and desire to a classroom someday. We need to motivate and push ourselves and our students beyond our comfort zones and into a brand new level of learning. Games and gaming are just one way to get there.

  2. I can’t wait to start incorporating video games into my counseling profession and ultimately into counselor education. I think that it can be so useful and we definitely need to motivate students and find more innovative ways to encourage them to learn.

    1. Motivation is vital for any student and the more innovative we can be the better the educational experience will be for all involved. Video games are in everybody’s home so why not bring them into the classroom and make that as real and relevant a place as the home.

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