You see it in every corner now …. video games as the answer to numerous engagement issues, from teaching students to assessing them, rehabilitation and even job screening.  Will we see a day where video games are not just part of our education and workforce system, but the driving force?

Let’s take a look at a few trends and examples:

New Hire Selection:

“Games are pure fun—they cater to the inner child in each of us. We are wired to play, and, when captivated by games’ inherent power to engage, motivate and reward, we show our truest selves.” – Knack Games

The idea of being able to make employee selection based on game play is intriguing.  As a reformed Human Resources executive I find myself skeptical of the opening argument on Knack – certainly one of the most innovative companies in the space at present.  Do we really show our truest self during gaming, or does the game give us a buffer to experiment with alternative personas?  The promise of this sort of selection process is that it potentially removes bias in terms of race and gender … yet when you consider technology and gaming adoption by race and gender, you start with distinct and significant disparity … depending on the type of game.  This 2013 article provides some interesting insight into gaming preferences along the gender divide. Fundamentally, however, until access to games is more universal in nature (think broadband and technology access), it is hard to imagine that any amount of fairness will be soon in coming.

Gaming in Education:

“Testing fatigue, combined with more pervasive computer use in and out of the classroom and continued experimentation with games as learning tools, suggests that such video games will play a significant role in the future of education.” – Scientific American

Gaming in learning is hot … there is little doubt about it, and it is self-admittedly very new in terms of research outcomes.  Students play enormous amounts of video games, and undoubtedly learning is occurring during these activities.  Video games have been implemented since early simulation models to teach real world skills ranging from flying to driving to nuclear operations and surgery … which suggests that there is real value in the integration of some form of gaming within the classroom.  Video games that focus on general “brain training” are multi-million dollar mobile apps, and variations have exploded from Pre-K through college and beyond.  Digital literacy is a growing requirement for jobs – of this we are sure, and well executed games – such as Minecraft- have successfully navigated the barrier between home and classroom application without a significant drop in student engagement.

Yet for all the enthusiasm, few studies have examined, let alone proven that video games actually improve classroom performance and academic achievement.  In fact, many powerful Silicon Valley tech executives purposefully avoid the use of technology with the education of their own children.  The Waldorf Schools are a prime example, where blackboards and book shelves remain the standard and teaching remains in the hands of the teacher and real-world experience.

Even if it is effective … is it healthy?

The push for greater integration of video games in the classroom has only begun to build momentum.  Yet fundamentally, I believe that education is greater than the sum of its tools, of which video games are one tool among many.  Regardless of where you stand on the efficacy of video games, it’s worth taking some time to look at the additional effects of more screen time and more virtual experience in a generation that is less and less connected to the real world.

While the efficacy of video gaming as educational tools is still relatively new in regard to research … it has been the subject of considerable research in mental health.  Numerous studies in the realm of healthcare investigate the screen time connection to mental health and its subsequent effects on mental and social development.  While the vast majority of research points to the negative aspects of video gaming on mental health, some studies have pointed to a few positive benefits – such as improving the capacity of users to “think about objects in three dimensions,” though no comparison is given for these results.  Nevertheless, specific types of video games are connected to various positive outcomes, suggesting that  – like the utilization of video gaming in skill development, specific types of games may be useful for enhancing specific types of skills.

The bulk of research, however, tends toward the negative impact that gaming has on adolescent development: “As a practitioner, I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyperaroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what I call electronic screen syndrome. These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention—much like the description in the quote above describing damage seen in scans.” – Victoria Rideout

Your thoughts?

Do video games belong in the classroom? Will students even play video games that are knowingly linked to learning? Do positive effects outweigh negative consequences? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject as educators in the comments section below.