When I was a kid, and I completed all of my classwork, my teacher would let me play Oregon Trail on one of the two computers at the back of the room. I would frantically try to survive the trip across the country without getting sick or my wagon being damaged or my cattle dying. That is the extent of my game-based learning experience in the classroom. Part of the reason I have little experience with gaming in the classroom is found in my content areas: high school English and history. There are many educational games for elementary age students and a number for high school science and math but few for my subject area.
However, I may need to stop avoiding game-based learning. According to the article “GBL Continues to Take Hold” (2017) game-based learning can help the “most vulnerable” students and can improve “cognitive learning outcomes substantially”. I have a number of students who struggle in my classes, and if I can use a game to help embolden those students at the same time they more deeply learn content knowledge, I would be willing to try it.
There is science to support the use of games in the classroom. In an article on Edutopia, Willis (2011), a neurologist, explains the positive effects of gaming on young people. Teachers often show concern that students do not have the skills to face a challenge and choose to take on more difficult material. However, the nature of a video game is just that. As the player chooses to complete increasingly difficult levels, his/her brain is flooded with dopamine, leading the player to feel pleasure and reward for taking on difficult material. I wish my students felt pleasure and reward when they read The Scarlet Letter in my class.
Through the course of searching for level-appropriate games for my American Literature students, I found few high quality games that were both high quality and covered deep material. However, there is enough research supporting game-based learning that it will be worth my while to keep looking and find games I can use with my students to further their learning.