Video games are not generally thought of as anything more serious than a recreational hobby, even despite many people building successful careers in gaming, for many years now. Video games engage the user in a way that is both interactive and immersive, bringing enjoyment, immersion, a state of flow, utilizing active mental engagement, awareness, and fine motor skills.
The past five years have seen a tremendous increase in the adoption of gaming in the United States. The average time played per week has been around seven hours during these years, for certain demographics.
It only makes sense that if the younger generations (who are spending increasingly more years in formal education) and future generations to come, are growing up with video games and actively engaging in them, why wouldn’t that technology be incorporated into the framework of their education?
Whenever a new medium is discovered (radio, film, television), or a means of engagement becomes available in society (telephone, video calls, multiplayer gaming) it is quickly adopted for use in promoting active engagement and interaction with a broad range of use cases, such as training, research, and even active warfare. US armed drone pilots and submariners famously undergo training using XBox controllers, in a custom-made Department of Defence video game, before using real drones with real ordnance, in the battlefield. This isn’t a new concept, it’s something that every industry makes use of in turn. Video games aren’t the only recreational medium that is being adopted for new uses and new audiences, mediums are expanding their application, to fill every niche. Board games are experiencing a new wave of enthusiasm, with new and wildly popular titles each expanding the horizons of what board games can be. The demographic groups of all of these mediums are changing too. For example, in the case of the aforementioned board game trend, the boomer generation will find a specific pop culture baby boomer game, tailored to their demographic’s interests. While it’s common for us to associate new trends and new uses of technology with young adults and teenagers (rapidly adopting Snapchat and now TikTok, for example), the real world is more complex, and new trends emerge in unexpected demographics, with unexpected use cases all the time.
Improving student engagement using active learning is an area that video game technology can immensely benefit—and even better, the approach can be applied to all levels and phases of education. Giving students the freedom to explore and interact with their (virtual) environment, to experience instantaneous feedback when failing and succeeding at any given learning task, would make the learning stress-free, more immediate, and ultimately enjoyable. Gone are the days of waiting two weeks to find out your score on a paper.
The underlying technology behind most video games is highly customizable, can often be updated continuously, and can be updated with new content catered to specific knowledge or skill sets. All of these factors are likely to make it valuable in an educational context, and as part of a formal curriculum.
The same technology can be adapted post-school as well. In certain fields of work, video game technology can be specifically developed as a tool to automate hiring processes. For example, gauging the aptitude of candidates for potential positions in job fields entirely remotely, allowing both companies and candidates alike to avoid the cost and trouble of physically visiting the company for an interview or hands-on trial.
With respect to cognitive capabilities, a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that action-oriented video games can improve overall learning capabilities in general, and not just the skills taught in the game. This has potentially huge implications for all kinds of professional training, upskilling programs, and continuing professional development.
Along these lines, Daphne Bavelier, research professor in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, believes that “action gamers excel at many tasks.” She also stated, “And they become better learners by playing fast-paced action games.” Bavelier states that our brains predict what will come next—in conversation, listening, driving, and even in high-pressure tasks like performing surgery. She says that for the brain to sharpen its prediction skills, our brain constantly builds models or ‘perceptual templates’ of the real world.
“The better the template, the better the performance. And now we know playing action video games actually fosters better templates,” said Bavelier.
When action gamers were given a perceptual learning task by the researchers, it was discovered that action video game players could build and fine-tune perceptual templates quicker than non-action game participants. Action gamers were even able to do this on the fly as they engaged.
To be a better learner means one develops the accurate perceptual templates at a faster rate, and this leads to overall better performance. The research team found that playing action video games was a performance booster. With more and more formal studies emerging, the relationship between new & interactive media, and learning performance is becoming clearer. While we used to think that playing video games was an idle pass-time, new evidence throws light on potentially huge societal ramifications, and booms in efficiency and cognitive performance, whether in the context of education, or the workforce.