A neurological study conducted by several psychologists led by Simone Kühn, a researcher for the Center of Lifespan Psychology, found that those who played video games for at least 30 minutes a day showed increased stimulation in the areas of the brain that are “crucial for spatial navigation, strategic planning, working memory and motor performance” (Kühn et al., 2013). Consequently, there is a possibility that video games can be used to assist students in academic contexts and improve their engagement and performance. Julian Furdu, who has a Ph.D. in Computer Science and conducts research on technology in education, defines game-based learning as the idea of applying video games in an educational context.
In addition, game-based learning overlaps many aspects of gamification, the use of game design elements (i.e., leaderboards, points, and badges), to enhance student engagement and motivation to the extent that both terms are used interchangeably (Furdu et al.
, 2017). Upon understanding these two terms, game-based learning and gamification are pedagogical strategies used in the classroom to increase engagement. However, it is notable that a survey conducted by Steve Jones, a researcher at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a relevant non-profit organization that conducts original research on the growth of the internet and its impact on children and schools, found that “48% of college students admitted that gaming keeps them from studying” (Jones, 2003). Although video games have positive effects on one’s cognitive abilities, these opposing studies might be the reason that game-based learning has not been integrated into academics yet, making gamification a complex issue. Nonetheless, students, teachers and parents, and the education system may have an abundance at stake due to the implementation of these teaching strategies in public school curriculums. Overall, enforcing game-based learning into public school systems in the U.S. could have social and psychologically beneficial effects on education.
The majority of research done on the psychological effects of gaming mainly speaks of the detrimental effects on minorities, such as violence, depression, and addiction. For instance, Jeffrey Bingenheimer, a professor of human development and behavior at Harvard School of Public Health, conducted a 2-year long study which indicated that exposure to video games approximately doubled the likeliness of minors resorting to violence when faced with stressful situations in real life (Bingenheimer et al., 2005). This information suggests that the implementation of video games in education might have adverse effects on students, causing them to be hostile rather than improving their engagement in school. However, a more balanced perspective on the psychological effects of gaming may be needed. Different students might not learn as efficiently using the current teaching strategies used in public schools, such as lecturing, study guides, quizzes, etc. A possible alternative to improve a student’s engagement and overall ability to learn and retain information is gamification. As mentioned before, Kühn and his colleagues found that those who played video games for at least 30 minutes a day showed increased stimulation in certain areas of the brain such as “the right hippocampal formation, right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and bilateral cerebellum” (Kühn et al.
, 2013). These areas of the brain are responsible for strategic planning, working memory and motor performance. The reason video games may prime aggression in adolescent, as noted by Bingenheimer, is most likely because of the violence within the narrative content. Thus, if games that featured narrative content related to the curricular material, while providing the same kinds of complex motor and cognitive demands as fast-paced action games, were designed, students will experience the same increased stimulation mentioned by Kuhn. Teachers can then use these games to implement game-based learning in the classroom and reinforce learning outcomes by improving students’ performance and retention rate.Although games may improve students’ engagement, the idea of gaming in the classroom remains stigmatized by educators and parents due to reluctance to change. Nonetheless, educators are responsible for more than just the transmission of content and facts.
Teachers are accountable for the psychological well-being of their students as well; educators are responsible for teaching their students social, emotional, and interpersonal skills. “When teachers poorly manage the social and emotional demands of teaching, students’ academic achievement and behavior both suffer,” says Kimberly A. Schonert-Reicht, a human development psychologist and professor (Schonert-Reicht, 2017). Game-based learning can help with that matter. Jordan Shapiro, an author whose academic work focuses on education, parenting, and game-based learning, reports that “kids who play multiplayer games online are more likely to have a positive attitude toward people from another country: 62 percent of online gamers hold a favorable view of people from different cultures compared to 50 percent of non-gamers” (Shapiro, 2014). Online gaming is interactive and correlates with a more diverse group of friends. On the contrary, the diversity of an institution is rarely reflected by individuals’ group of peers. If the same principle is applied to classrooms, multiplayer learning games may eliminate bullying, thus building camaraderie among classmates.
As a result of gamification and its effects on the psychological stability of students and their relationships in school, the education system may be affected as well. Charlene Vermeulen, an assistant principal and teacher since 1991, reports that students do not appear to have the same desire for education that they did 20 years ago (Weller, 2017). The idea of gamifying the classroom may provide opportunities for greater student engagement, solving the aforementioned problem. Additionally, one of the goals of education is presumably the promotion of critical thinking. However, in agreement with Vermeulen, Peter Gray, a research professor who has conducted and published research in educational psychology reports that “most students learn to avoid thinking critically about their schoolwork; they learn that their job in school is to get high marks on tests and that critical thinking only wastes time and interferes” (Gray, 2009).
Despite the importance of critical thinking skills, America’s schools have not yet implemented pedagogical strategies necessary to foster these skills. Since problem-solving and critical thinking are at the core of any game experience, the gamification of classrooms can help strengthen these skills. In her TED talk, “Gaming Can Make a Better World,” game designer and author Jane McGonigal debunks Gray and Vermeulen, reasonably arguing that video games are interactive and engaging; she states that video games motivate others and inspires them to collaborate (McGonigal, 2010). Although McGonigal makes a logical claim, she does not provide empirical evidence to support her statement. National educational consultant, Tara Kingsley, who mainly studies the effects of technology integration on student learning, supports McGonigal’s argument by demonstrating the potential of gamification in education: Kingsley conducted a study where a classroom of students played a video game where they were “required to synthesize and compile information in new ways to propose a solution for their fictitious superheroes” and found that the quality of students’ work improved by 87.2% when learning through this method (Kingsley et al., 2015). This study resulted in the findings of empirical evidence, strengthening the author’s argument.
Moreover, the implementation of game-based learning may provide a possible solution to the aforementioned problem, the loss of interest in education, by supporting literacy skills involving critical thinking.Ultimately, the integration of game-based learning and gamification has the potential to flourish in U.S. public schools. Although the exposure to violence in video games may prime aggression in children, video games strictly featuring educational narrative can be used to engage students in the classroom, fostering skills emphasized as necessary and important by the American education system, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Additionally, the interactive element of multiplayer video games may help educators teach their students social and interpersonal skills.
If educators apply these same principals in the classroom, violence and bullying due to cultural differences, social status, etc. may be eliminated. Moreover, game-based learning has the possibility of becoming a successful pedagogical strategy, resulting in a cognitively engaged, psychological experience for students as well as teachers and the education system.