Can Video Games Teach Real-World Skills? And Should They?

Posted: May 24 2018, 9:10am CDT | by , in News

Can Video Games Teach Real-World Skills? And Should They?

Could Video Games Be More Educational? And Is It Right for Them to Be?

Video games have gotten criticism from parents and policymakers since their humble origins, decades ago. At its lightest, this criticism has accused them of being a waste of time. At its worst, they’ve been accused of leading to mass shootings (despite no objective evidence).

But could video games be used to teach real-world skills? And if so, is it wise or ethical for game developers to strive to teach these lessons?

Potential Skills

Let’s start with some of the real-world skills that video games could teach:

  • Communication and teamwork. Some research shows that playing games with a group of people, regardless of the nature of the game, can build communication skills (as with any group), and improve individuals’ abilities to work together as a team. This is an important skill for all people in all professions, and should be taken seriously as a benefit of playing games. This would also require no additional game design work, though some games could be designed in a way that forces additional communication or teamwork.
  • Critical thinking and problem solving. Video games also frequently force players to engage critical thinking and problem solving skills. When encountering a new type of enemy, players have to experiment with new methods of attack. When staring down a complex puzzle, they have to keep making attempts until they have a breakthrough. Even in simple games, this structure can teach the importance of perseverance and lateral thinking.
  • Investment and long-term thinking. It’s common for players to horde important items, especially in games with a serious threat of death around every corner. In games with functional in-game economies, players also learn to make rational economic decisions. In both cases, players learn the value of currency (even if it’s in-game currency), as well as the basics of saving, maximizing income, and in some cases, even compound interest. With a basic grasp of those fundamentals, players can try their hand at real-world counterparts, like investing in rental property.
  • Military training. There are some reports that the military has used video games to train soldiers, though in this application, games are used to help maintain the “mentality of a soldier” during off hours, rather than to teach actual skills necessary to survive on the battlefield. Realistic digital simulations are reserved for niche applications, like flying aircraft.
  • Real-world training. Though not quite in “video game” territory, virtual reality (VR) is being increasingly used as a training tool, even for mundane roles and responsibilities. It’s a safe environment that can guide you through the sights, sounds, and actions necessary to perform almost any role.

The Challenges

Of course, there are some obstacles to including lessons like these in games:

  • Appeal. First, only a handful of people would be willing to buy a video game just because it taught a skill—especially an unsexy skill. Rocksmith is a Guitar Hero-like game that can teach you how to play an instrument in a game-like environment, and it’s seen considerable sales. But can you imagine a game that teaches you how to file your taxes? Or the right way to change the oil in your car? Despite their practicality, these games wouldn’t hold much appeal to the common gamer. Therefore, they wouldn’t make much money, and therefore, developers aren’t choosing to pursue them.
  • Authority. What gives game developers the right to decide what skills are “good” or “bad” to teach in the context of a game? On some level, it makes sense that developers would create an in-game economy that rewards risky investments. But what about one that teaches the importance of long-term investments that may take years to pay off? What about one that punishes the player for investing anything at all? Developers aren’t required to teach “good” lessons, and even if they were, who would define what a “good” lesson was?
  • Inappropriate lessons. Video games could also be grounds to teach people inappropriate lessons or skills. For example, learning to rely on a respawn point or reset button could imbue someone with the mentality that you’ll always have another chance. And VR environments could be a breeding ground for inappropriate behaviors, including abuse. Video games do have the power to teach people new things—but not all those things will be positive for society.

So are video games a realistic platform for training and education? That depends on how you’re using them. Any competently designed video game should teach you something, whether it’s how to gain a tactical advantage when you’re outnumbered or how to give clearer instructions when you’re under pressure. The real problem is finding the right lessons and skills to teach, and the right ways to teach them, all while spreading the understanding that video games can, and will, impact people in real life.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/68" rel="author">Larry Alton</a>
Larry is an independent business consultant specializing in tech, social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.




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