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Educational Video Games: No Longer a Contradiction

by Claire Watry, Terra Linda HS

The definition of a video game according to Merriam-Webster is: an electronic game played by means of images on a video screen and often emphasizing fast action. The definition does include the phrases “must contain violence,” “must be uneducational” or “guaranteed to turn children into zombies.” Video games are often stigmatized as a waste of time, and few realize that video games can actually be educational and help children’s learning rather than hindering it. With proper implementation, educational video games have the potential to transform traditional education and propel students into high-profile jobs in the tech-savvy world.

Video games are an innovative way to engage students in science. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution experimented with alternative methods of teaching science and created the video game Vanished where students are presented with the scenario that in the future all historical records are destroyed, and are asked by the people of the future to investigate the causes of this catastrophe by researching and recording data about present-day Earth. The game incorporates problem-solving and analytical skills in an interactive way of exploring science in the hopes that science is seen as an “engaging process of mystery and discovery” rather than the sadly common perception that is a boring process full of memorization. Vanished gives the students a hands-on experience by requiring them to go out into their neighborhoods to research and record what they experience instead of  just memorizing vocabulary and looking up the answers on the internet. Although the trial run of Vanished is over, researchers hope to use the game as a model to create interactive educational tools for teaching science.

A leader in the use of education video games in the classroom is the Redwood-City-based GlassLab (Games, Learning, and Assessment Lab). The goal of the video games is to engage the students in an interactive manner and stimulate their interest in the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). For their first project, GlassLab took the commercially-successful SimsCity video game and modified it to be educational. The science-based video game titled SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge! challenges middle-school students to run a successful town by considering the environmental impacts their actions have while maintaining employment levels and citizen happiness. For example, in the game a city will run out of electricity and the students must then solve the issue and return power to the city. The video game engages the students’ critical thinking and allows them to gain valuable insight into real world problems and potential solutions. The game follows lesson plans and assesses the students’ progress by tracking their progression through the various scenarios. Check out the video below to learn more about SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge!.

For more information about GlassLab visit

Learn more about educational gaming at "The Making of an App—The First Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game" with David Fox, of Electric Eggplant, Marin County -Wednesday, September 25th, 2013, 7:30 - 8:30 pm, Terra Linda High School, San Rafael, Room 207.


Claire Watry

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