Watchworthy Wednesday: How Video Games Amplify Learning

[Over the past ten years I’ve done research into game-based learning as part of my teaching at Carnegie Mellon University. In addition,  I’ve spent time with schools that have tapped into game-based learning. It works! Here’s an article about Constance Steinkuehler from Mimi Ko Cruz on the Digital Media Learning blog that highlights some of the benefits as well as the myths. ]

As a leading scholar of video games, game culture and game player behavior, Constance Steinkuehler argues that games amplify learning and academics.

In fact, video games and esports “leverage and require an incredible amount of cognitive intellectual labor,” she said at last week’s University of California, Irvine eSports Symposium. “Video game play actually leads to higher problem-solving skills. And, those higher problem-solving skills actually lead to higher academic grades…. You can start to see where games, rather than being in competition for so-called intellectual pursuits or academic performances, actually are enhancers.”

The UCI professor of informatics and president of the Higher Education Video Game Alliance gave an overview of research findings from studies conducted over the past decade. Among the results:

  • Video gaming has significant positive effects on reading, reasoning skills and mathematics achievement.
  • Games align well with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). For example, one study showed improvement in STEM performance of more than a grade of difference when using games to learn instead of textbooks.
  • Video gaming results in 20% higher self-efficacy, 11% higher declarative knowledge, 14% higher procedural knowledge and 9% better retention.
  • Video games have a positive impact in areas like perception and attention, systemic thinking, ethical reasoning, collaborative problem solving and computer and technology fluency.

Stereotypes that video game players are anti-social are untrue, emphasized Steinkuehler, who is part of UCI’s Connected Learning Lab. “Game play is done in collaboration and in tandem with other people. Even when you play on one screen, you tend to rely on a community of interests that actually drives your performance.”

When looking at athletics and academics, she said, research shows that athletic motivation predicts academic performance. In other words, Steinkuehler said, “kids who really want to be good at competitive athletics tend to be really good and competitive in school. You see higher GPA (grade point average) for high school students. Team sports are associated with a long list of positive impact, such as personal growth, motivation toward degree completion, persistence, grit, tenacity, internal locus of control, the belief that your performance is based on how much work you do and that it’s a skill you can improve. Sports amplify academic success.”

As for esports, she said, not much is known. That’s why she and her UCI research team is launching a study of UCI’s video gamers in the fall. The study will be asking how students’ game play aligns with what they’re doing in school and how it amplifies in ways that endure. Scholars interested in helping conduct the research are invited to contact Steinkuehler by email at

Her UCI eSports Symposium talk is available online.


[For the past five years I’ve worked in the game-based learning arena, mainly for Zulama, a local company that developed a high school (and now middle school) curriculum based on the work of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. In this online article, you’ll discover a new competition open to middle and high school students in Pittsburgh, Dallas, and New York City.]

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Games for Change (G4C) is proud to announce the launch of the 2nd annual G4C Student Challenge in NYC, Pittsburgh, and Dallas for the 2016-2017 school year. This year’s programs features three new themes — Local Stories & Immigrant Voices, Climate Change, and Future Communities — along with a new lineup of partners and student events.

The Challenge is being implemented through a consortium of national partners, including Mouse and Institute of Play, and local partners in each city (The Sprout Fund in Pittsburgh and Big Thought in Dallas) with generous support from the Best Buy Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities and the HIVE Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust.

Challenge themes

Students will design games around the following three themes, each supported by partners that provide research assets, workshops, and subject expertise:

  • Local Stories & Immigrant Voices – supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): Games that explore the unique history of local immigrant experiences through the lens of the student’s own experience;
  • Climate Change – supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA): Games that explore the local effects of climate change, and aim to raise awareness and change the behavior of people in each city;
  • Future Communities – supported by Current, powered by GE: Games about how smart technologies and infrastructure can improve urban life and empower citizens, with participation from the city governments in NYC, Dallas, and Pittsburgh.

Read more…

Mom was wrong: Study shows gaming is good for school

[The research continues to grow on the positive impact of games on learning. Here’s a CNET article that focuses on an Australian research project. The research does  not pinpoint which type of games improve skills, but it does indicate that games are preferable to social media, like Facebook. For those folks who can make this year’s Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference on November 7 and 8, there will be sessions that share some success stories from the Pittsburgh region.]

August 8, 2016 by


Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0


Could playing Minecraft and other online games lead to better grades in school? Maybe, as long as you don’t spend time sharing details of your digital exploits on Snapchat or Facebook. That seems to be the message of a new study that finds online video games improve students’ scores, while social media has the opposite effect.

Researchers at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia looked at standard test scores for 12,000 Australian 15-year-olds and also asked them about their online habits.

The results are that I finally won a long-standing argument with my mother from 1994: Turns out I probably was better off spending my hours playing long-since-forgotten TurboGrafx 16 games than posting on America Online or the local BBS all day (I guess the simple, text-based forums looked more “educational” to her at the time).

The research, published in the most recent issue of the International Journal of Communication, finds that students who play online games nearly every day scored 15 points above average in math and 17 points above average in science.

“When you play online games you’re solving puzzles to move to the next level and that involves using some of the general knowledge and skills in maths, reading and science that you’ve been taught during the day,” RMIT Associate Professor Alberto Posso, who conducted the research, said in a release.

Read more…