Games in Education

By Robert Doyle

My name is Robert Doyle and I am an Assistant Professor at NMSU/Doña Ana.  I have been teaching for over 15 years and have been using gaming software in as many of my courses as I can.  I am also looking at using mobile apps to help keep my students involved in the learning process.

First let’s look at the history of games. “The history of games dates to the ancient human past. Games are an integral part of all cultures and are one of the oldest forms of human social interaction.” (Wikipedia, History of games, 2017). How many of you remember PONG…  I actually had this game.

Educational Games, you can also define educational games as game based learning. “Game based learning (GBL) is a type of game play that has defined learning outcomes. Generally, game based learning is designed to balance subject matter with gameplay and the ability of the player to retain and apply said subject matter to the real world.” (Editorial Team, 2013).

As games evolved, they started to become more realistic and had more interaction.  One of the most popular early games was called, “LinearCity”, later to be renamed SimCity in 1989.  In this game you had to learn how to create, manage, and keep the population of the city happy.  This was done by creating roads, rail systems, housing developments, businesses and so on.  Individuals did not realize that they were learning.  I personally really enjoyed playing this game.

You can find educational games as far back as the 1960’s. First there was Logo Programming, (1967).  Followed by one of the oldest and popular game of all time, Lemonade Stand, (1979). The Oregon Trail (1985) perhaps no more widely played or fondly remembered educational game that even some kids know of today.  And was can not forget, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego (1985).

Now, most of the earlier games where simulation based, or just learning with fun.  But in 1987, the first set of truly educational games started to appear.  One of the most popular was Math Blaster, Reader Rabbit, and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.  I remember these games fondly, when I had my software company, we sold primarily educational software to schools all over the United States and one of my most popular was the edutainment series.

While we are on the lines of gaming in education, we cannot overlook, edutainment. First of all, what is edutainment, “Educational entertainment is content designed to educate through entertainment. “And should be enjoyable for the user using the software.”  It includes content that is primarily educational but has incidental entertainment value, and content that is mostly entertaining but contains educational value.” (Wikipedia, Educational entertainment, 2017).

Most edutainment games covered more serious topics such as in 2005: A Game of Macroeconomics, 3D Body Adventure and 911 Paramedic just to name a few.  These types of game involved more real life situations and helped explain complexes subjects.  These games also introduced more realistic graphics and sounds.

“While there has been a surge in the acceptance and prevalence of game-based learning in schools over the past decade, especially in light of the success of programs like Khan Academy, playing games in the classroom is nothing new. Educational games have been a commonplace part of the K-12 experience since the beginning of the 1980s (and in some places well before that), with early titles introducing students to fundamental math, history, and problem solving concepts just as games do today. While the graphics may not have been great, the games helped to engage a generation of kids with technology and laid a solid foundation for the educational games that were to come.” (Heick, 2012).

As games in education progressed, big corporations started to get on board. Companies such as Microsoft and Cisco Systems started developing and disturbing educational games. Minecraft which was created by Microsoft was a complete hit.  Afterwards, Microsoft released an education edition of this program.

Cisco Systems created a program called, “Aspire”.  Aspire is a SimCITY clone with an emphasis on networking and customer service.  You can also assign homework’s using this software as well. You can play it as a standalone game, as a classroom or compete against the entire world.  Aspire is totally free to any Cisco Networking Academy students anywhere in the world.

Online games in education is now starting to take off.  Hour of Code is one of the most popular coding sites in the world.  It is used to promote coding to the youth in every country and every grade level.  It is a both visual and text-based learning, as well as there is plenty of educational and community support systems.

Apple is also following up with Swift. “Swift is a powerful and intuitive programming language for macOS, iOS, WatchOS and tvOS. Writing Swift code is interactive and fun, “and can be taught at any age, skill level and grade.” the syntax is concise yet expressive, and Swift includes modern features developers love. Swift code is safe by design, yet also produces software that runs lightning-fast.” (Apple, 2017)

Now let’s look at virtual environments for learning.  One of the most popular was, Second Life.  I was using Second Life so some time and even taught classes in it.  Earlier in Second Life’s life, a lot of Universities had a presence in this virtual world.  NMSU, UNM, USC, Harvard were just a few.  Also, most companies also had a presence, Cisco Systems, publishing companies, etc. Second Life still exists, but on a much smaller scale.

What is the future for games in education? “Game developers all over the country are working to align some educational games to Common Core State Standards, while educators and video game makers are seeing benefits in using games in a classroom context, despite concerns from administrators. This could be the golden age of educational video games.” (Papallo, 2015).

“Around 67 percent of U.S. households are home to people who play video games. Many of those gamers are students, who can spend almost as many hours playing video games as they do attending school. So it only makes sense that the U.S. Department of Education considers video games an educational opportunity…” (Burks, 2015).  So it is good to see the government looking to this technology to help students learn.

As for academia, “Fact or Fiction?: Video Games Are the Future of Education”. “Some educators swear by them as valuable high-tech teaching tools but little is known about their impact on learning.” (Malykhina, 2014). “Video games are playing an increasing role in school curricula as teachers seek to deliver core lessons such as math and reading—not to mention new skills such as computer programming—in a format that holds their students’ interests.” (Malykhina, 2014). So, it is up to you the teachers to determine if games will fit for your curriculum.

Finally, let’s talk about the world and what the world does to promote games in education.  There is an event called the, World Education Games. “The World Education Games is the world’s largest free online education competition held every two years.” (Learning, 2016).  There are over five million students from across the world and is designed for all ages and ability levels.  Medals and trophies are awarded to winning students and schools.

My reflection… I feel that video games or apps will continue to grow and become a more integral part of day to day education.  Without games, our computers would not have the power and graphic capability they have today, thank you!


Apple. (2017). Swift 3. Retrieved from

Burks, R. (2015, April 14). US Department of Education Sees Future of Education In Video Games. Retrieved from

Editorial Team. (2013, April 23). What is GBL (Game-Based Learning). Retrieved from

Heick, T. (2012, September 12). A History Of Video Games In Education. Retrieved from

Learning, 3. (2016). World Education Games. Retrieved from

Malykhina, E. (2014, September 12). Fact or Fiction?: Video Games Are the Future of Education. Retrieved from

Papallo, J. (2015). Are Video Games the Future of Education? Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2017, March 4). Educational entertainment. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2017, February 8). History of games. Retrieved from

Games in Education

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