When I was studying psychology in undergraduate I would play video games to take my mind off school. I played a lot of The Sims and I couldn’t help noticing how The Sims could be used as a tool for therapy. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Since then I’ve always been interested in how video games can be used therapeutically and educationally.

Gamification is the application of game elements to non-game environments. Happify gamifies wellness with minigames and medals. Sparkpeople gamifies fitness with points. Similarly, gmification elements have been incorporated into education.
While gamification is interesting, what fascinates me more is using games to facilitate education and teach. For example, I was playing Democracy 3 and frankly, it’s boring as hell as games go but I could see value in using Democracy as an educational tool and I wanted to look into if there are any other games (especially those NOT designed for education) that incorporate into curriculum. Democracy 3 was not designed as an educational tool but everything about it screams educational. Searching for curriculum to support education with Democracy 3, however, yields no real results.

Democracy 3 Interface. See, boring! But is is educational?


Many other games, though have well-established curriculum. Sid Meier’s Civilization series has many curricular tie-ins that they’re launching Civilization EDU. Minecraft has Mincraft EDU now as well. Eco, from Strange Loop Games is in development specifically for educational purposes.

But does it really work? Echeverria, Gil ans Nussbaum  (2016) found improvement in scores from using augmented reality games.  Young (2016) found that games facilitate learning, encourage collaboration, and can provide context for information.

Just because a game seems educational doesn’t mean it will be effective for instruction. Kapp (2016) offers important guidelines for integrating games into instruction:

  • game need to be embedded in instructional programs
  • game objectives must align with curriculum objectives to be effective
  • games must include instructional support
  • games should be highly interactive
  • games need unlimited access to encourage playing multiple times and
  • educational effectiveness is more important than entertainment value

In addition, games need to be evaluated on two levels: Academic value and Educational Value. A game can be educational, but have little academic value. EdSurge has a short breakdown of these with respect to Sid Meier’s Civilization series.

One thing most investigations of games ad education tend to overlook is accessibility in terms of disabilities. There is an entire area of gaming devoted to AbleGaming, including efforts from AbleGamers to make video gaming accessible to all persons. If gaming itself isn’t accessible, then chances are educational gaming has similar challenges. Be sure to check if the games you choose have accessibility features that allow all students to participate. Here’s an example of accessibility in World of Warcraft from AbleGamers. Before you say WoW isn’t an educational game,  read this post about WoW in the classroom. (And this one. And this too!)

The World of Warcraft Accessibility Interface

Games can be used effectively in instruction. Remember Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? Yeah, that darn song is forever etched on my brain. Carmen San Diego taught me that I was apparently great at deductive reasoning and terrible at Geography.

Just like with any curriculum, games need to evaluated on many levels for appropriateness. Just because someone says a game is educational doesn’t mean it will work for your students, though seeking out reviews can be helpful. Try it out, test, re-test. Does it align with curriculum? Does it align with educational standards? Is it educational? Is is Academic? Is it accessible to all students (students with disabilities and accessibility in terms of physical access to technology and/or internet.) Enjoy gaming in your classroom because it works for YOUR students. Don’t do it just because it’s in vogue.

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Echeverría, A., Gil, F., & Nussbaum, M. (2016). Classroom Augmented Reality Games: A model for the creation of immersive collaborative games in the classroom. 2012-05-22]. http://dcc. puc. cl/system/files/MN43-Classroom+ augmented+ games. pdf.

Kapp, K. M. (2016). Choose your level: Using games and gamification to create personalized instruction. Handbook on Personalized Learning for States, Districts, and Schools, 131-143.

Young, J. (2016). Can Library Research Be Fun? Using Games for Information Literacy Instruction in Higher Education. Georgia Library Quarterly, 53(3), 7. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1973&context=glq