Knowledge Acquisition Through Video Games and Serious Games

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Video Games. For some the tenth art, for others a waste of time. Digital gaming began in 1948 when two bored scientists decided to create a cathode ray tube entertainment device. Since then, video games have evolved to be used for different purposes that sometimes go far beyond pure entertainment.

Digital games are used to practice soldiers and police in controlled environments, flight simulations for apprentice pilots, among others. In Healthcare, they assist in the recovery of limb movements for patients who have suffered some type of accident. Attempts to include the acquisition of new knowledge, skills and abilities as the value of video games have proven that they are very interesting for education in general, as it will be shown later.

But can video games be used to give people useful new insights? How can they be beneficial to the formation of individuals? Is it bad that someone would rather play than read books? With some research and personal experience, all these questions will be answered and the games will be especially positive and beneficial for people, especially for teaching.

Good guy or bad guy?

 Video games are believed to be uniquely harmful, encouraging violence and misconduct, and even associated with tragedies such as school shootings and murders. It is also believed that in a game that aims to assassinate a target or steal something, one can teach how to perform such acts of truth, thus developing the player’s willingness to reproduce this behavior in real life. That’s partially correct. Exposure to violent games is in fact associated with higher levels of aggressive behavior in children, teenagers and young adults. However, there is no solid evidence that widespread and well-known tragedies – such as the school shootings in Dickucah, Kentucky, Jonesboro, Arkansas and Littleton, Colorado – have digital games to blame, just the fact that they were committed by individuals who played  video games[1].

In addition, violent games are designed to be violent, so parents who buy games for their children must or should be aware of this fact.  Video games do not encourage harmful behavior if they respect the age rating of a consistent content rating system, such as the ESRB (Entertainment Software Aging Board  – United States) or  PEGI  (Pan European Game Information  – Europe). 

Movies, books, and television series also contain violence, but bias from researchers may have influenced previous studies on this topic and distorted understanding of the effects of games. A recent study by the renowned University of Oxford in which data from a sample of 14 and 15year-old British and their tutors totaling approximately 2.000 individuals was analyzed suggests that the idea that violent games engender real-world aggression is popular, but it has not been tested very well until today.

While some believe video games are exclusively for kids and teens, computer-assisted learning is known to have great results for all ages. Games provide constructive, contextual and experiential learning, enhanced by player experimentation and immersion, which is especially explored in so-called Serious Games , that is, digital games designed to serve a definite, necessarily useful purpose by combining game play and learning[2].

Although the experimental evidence proving the effectiveness of Serious Games is not numerous, as it is relatively new, some researchers believe it is indeed effective, as they have attested to their studies that they increase student motivation and engagement, supporting learning when the methods traditional ones are boring and tedious[2].

Learning while playing

One reason why video games can be considered effective is that playing is the way nature leads us to learn. No animal is ever born knowing everything it should know, whether it’s a lion cub who fights its siblings, learning how to handle a real combat situation or a child interacting with a tablet screen wondering how it works, unconsciously acquiring affinity and preparing for technology in our contemporary society driven by it.

Playing is also a voluntary act, that is, an activity that one wishes to perform spontaneously, drawing more dedication than if they were compulsory or forced. But that does not mean that games can replace lectures or textbooks, as it would impose games on people, which would work, but would not unleash their full capabilities. Playing must be an act of choice.

However, games can replace or complement secondary education, such as novels, comics, or movies, and are more powerful because of the interactivity factor. As an example, we have Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed games franchise, considered historical games because they reproduce various historical moments to perfection, presenting the same content as a history book, but interactively: players can visit historical places and learn about them in the Discovery Tour mode (Image 1), which acts as a living digital museum, broadening interest in the subject – in other words, getting to know something without realizing it.

Image 1. Discovery Tour mode in Assassin’s Creed Origins game.

 We can also name Code Combat, a game intended for teachers and students, but that anyone can play. Code Combatis a role-playing game (Roleplaying Game) that targets high school teens and teaches Python, Javascript, Lua, and Coffeescript programming languages, as well as computer science fundamentals. The game forces its users to write code to advance their levels and has been positively reviewed by PC Magazine.

Image 2. Code Combat.

One of the great shortcomings of the modern educational system is the dread of failure it causes in students. Students all around the world are conditioned to fear mistakes instead of seeing them as an opportunity to learn something new. It can be said that the fear of getting a low grade causes students, especially adolescents and young adults, to study more and more to the detriment of physical and especially mental health.

This current model of the education system succeeds in one thing: it makes students study more. However, studying for fear and anxiety is the wrong way, as these feelings negatively affect student learning and development, especially in children. Games offer a smoother learning curve that also applies to school subjects (Image 3), providing more durable and enjoyable knowledge acquisition.

In video games, though failure still has consequences – such as having to go back to the beginning of the level or losing a life, points or money in the game – if players make a jump wrong, they can try again. If they fail challenges, they can – and are encouraged to – try new strategies, different solutions. They are trained not to fear mistakes but to think and find a solution to overcome them. Games ask players if they can find a solution instead of asking for the right answer right away, bringing lessons to each challenge.

Image 3. Common learning curve for digital games.

There is still the matter of time. There is not enough time for all students to learn about a particular subject before moving on to the next. Teachers cannot fully focus on teaching because they are tied to the lengthy task of correcting tests and assignments. Classrooms are not prepared for a different model of teaching, mostly using written material, which is a very old model of education.

With the inclusion of educational games, the time available for teaching can be optimized as these games free teachers from the task of correction. Computers respond instantly, providing immediate feedback to students. Thus, games allow learners to reflect on their mistakes and that assessment is not only used to classify a student’s knowledge, but also to provide the opportunity for learning, and to allow teachers to focus on their primary function, which is teaching and training of individuals.

Another major problem facing the modern education system is the overcrowding of classrooms, meaning that nowadays a regular classroom has about 15 to 20 students, not to mention anomalous cases with 40 or 60 students. For the educator, it is difficult to detect in which part each student is having difficulties and, then, to elaborate classes that meet the needs of all, worsening the quality of teaching and learning. And that’s where computers and video games can stand out.

They are able to store a considerable amount of information about each one – such as where they click, how much time was spent on each challenge, how many attempts were given, how many people failed a particular challenge, and so on. This information, in turn, can be used later to make assertions about the group. Therefore, the teacher can easily detect the blockages and highlights of his students, giving him time to formulate other approaches – if the program does not do so automatically – in order to make the study more palatable, perhaps pleasurable.

In addition, depending on the design, games can automatically adapt to each student’s needs by selecting different challenges based on the data collected about them and allocating a different slice of time to a topic that is holding them back. For example, one child may be assigned a progression plan that allocates more time to understand how fractions work while another child receives a little more time on multiplications.

Some researchers and teachers have already tried using video games in out-of-school spaces for various learning experiences to complement classroom education. To enable the exploration of creativity and digital media skills, a teacher in Australia introduced the Minecraft game developed by Mojang with students of ages from 4 to 16. Another teacher used the game Civilization in a high school social studies program so that students could better understand world history. A third brought World of Warcraft into an out-of-school program so students could see the literary connections between the game and J.’s book. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit[3].

Serious Game in Brazil

Even the Brazilian government has adopted a Serious Game as part of the process to obtain the National Driving License, the driving simulator, which aims to give the training drivers more peace of mind in the recognition phase of the car functions, thus improving the use of practical classes.

In this same vein,  Venturus used an automotive simulator in combination with a market infotainment  – with Android Auto to connect to a mobile phone – to generate all the CAN (Controller Area Network Bus) information from a car. The simulator helps the institute in projects in partnership with FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automotive).

Video games are a relatively new technology and even newer is the idea that this communication way, mainly used for entertainment, can be used for more serious purposes. Therefore, it is understandable that people may find it difficult to accept them in education. However, games have many beneficial skills that could improve learning.

They may not be applicable in our education system as it is today, as part of a much larger reflection on how it works and how to reformulate it so that students use the many resources available to complement their education. This is the 21st century educational system that should teach students skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity, as well as just memorized facts.

Games can teach as well as or even better than any other traditional teaching method. This can be done, as it has already been done in some cases with good results.  Video game learning is about making people want to learn, piquing their curiosity and allowing them to explore and find solutions on their own, regardless of the challenge.

Curiosity is more powerful than fear of punishment. Thus, using games to complement teaching is not only about increasing student engagement, but also making learning something that they aspire to and enjoy doing.

References

[1] Anderson, C. A. & Bushman, B. J. (2001). Effects Of Violent Video Games On Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, And Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic   Review Of The Scientific Literature. Psychological Science, 12, 353. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00366

[2] Girard, C. C., Ecalle, J. J., & Magnan, A. A. (2013). Serious games as new educational tools: How

effective are they? A meta-analysis of recent studies. Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 29 (3), 207-219. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2012.00489.x

[3] Gerber, H. R. et al. (2014). From Mario to FIFA: What qualitative case study research suggests about games-based learning in A US classroom. Educational Media International, 51:1, 16-34, doi:10.1080/09523987.2014.889402

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