Educational Games in the Classroom

   Educational Games in the Classroom


Play is a natural part of the human experience. Ever since antiquity, people have come up with different ways to explore the world around them through games.

  •  A game can be defined as “a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that result in a quantifiable outcome” (Sadler, T.D., et al, 2015, p.3). This definition can apply to all games, from tag to Tetris.

  •  Games foster a sense of community, fun, and learning. When small children play, they are not simply playing for fun - they are learning about the world around them (Moreno Lucas, F.M., 2017).

  •  In recent years, video games have become quite popular. Over 95% of teenagers report that they have played a video game before (Sadler, T.D., et al, 2015), while 39% of boys and 22% of girls say that they play games every day (Robertson, J., 2011).

  •  Due to the popularity of video games and the potential they have for learning, many modern teachers wish to bring video games into their classrooms.


Games, of course, have been used by teachers to improve learning for years. However, while traditional games have already proven themselves in the classroom, video games have not. So, are they worth the effort? Can digital games be used to enhance education? And what benefits will traditional games continue to have in the future? 




While games themselves have a legacy stretching back to the beginning of humanity, video games have a much shorter history which began soon after the advent of the computer.


  •  Although scientists developed many programs which could be classified as video games in the 1950s and 1960s, the real breakthrough came in 1967 when Ralph Baer developed the first home game console, which was released in 1972 as the Odyssey. Although the console was overall a commercial failure, one of its featured games was the inspiration for what is often referred to as the first real video game: Pong ( Staff, 2017).

  •  In 1973, the first significant educational video game was released, an economic simulation game called Lemonade Stand (Needleman, A., 2017).

  •  There was a boom of educational games in the 1980s and 1990s, which saw the release of famed games such as The Oregon Trail, a game intended to teach the history of westward expansion in the United States, and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, a game about geography. Many of the games released within this time period would have a pervasive effect on the genre in the years to come (Needleman, A., 2017).


In the time since Pong, the landscape of gaming has changed dramatically.    

The complex, graphically impressive games of today look nothing like the simple black and white gameplay featured in Pong. The advancements which have taken place in the realm of video games have consequently allowed for game designers and educators to dive deeper into how gaming can be utilized for educational benefits, even to the point of giving students the opportunity to develop their own games, which can build deep understanding and critical thinking skills to an extent that simply playing a game would not (Huizenga, J.C., et al., 2017). Additionally, as today’s classrooms become more and more digital, the implementation of games makes more sense than ever before (Squire, K., 2015). 


Implementation in the Classroom


It is known that gaming has been around for a while and takes on an active role in students’ lives around the world. Throughout the years, we have seen it develop from physical, hands-on games to games involving technology. While incorporating games and game-based learning into the classroom has proven to be successful, not to mention popular among students, it can be a difficult task. No matter how relevant game-based learning has become, over 80% of teachers view games as challenging to weave into curricula and use effectively in their classrooms (Denham, A.R., Mayben, R., & Boman, T., 2016).

  •  Games often encourage communication between students, especially due to their cooperative nature (Bakhsh, S.A., 2016).  Having students work together helps promote a sense of teamwork and collaborative thinking, learning, and ideas that will be relevant in their lives, now and in the future.

  •  Games that are used for instruction should be aligned with the learning goals that the students are expected to master.

  •   When playing games with multiple people, groups/teams should be no larger than 5 people since larger groups can be counter-productive or chaotic (Bakhsh, S.A., 2016). Researchers suggest that groups/teams should ideally be about 3 people.

  •  Instructions must always be clear and well-understood by students; otherwise, the game will be a waste of time as students get frustrated and bored due to lack of understanding (Bakhsh, S.A., 2016).

  • Students should receive direct and immediate feedback regarding their actions within the game. Teachers should give students direct feedback to their answers and attend to misconceptions of the material when reviewing the game with the class.  When a teacher does this, it can be a valuable learning experience for the students.

  •  Since some students may not be familiar with technology, teachers need to explicitly teach aspects of digital game literacy before implementing digital games into their curriculum. (Robertson, J., 2011).

  • Teachers cannot simply be passive observers while their students play digital games; they must be actively involved and provide interventions when needed (Marklund, B.B. & Alklind Taylor, AS., 2016).

  •  Before implementing digital games in the classroom, teachers need to predict possible complications that may arise (Marklund, B.B. & Alklind Taylor, AS., 2016).

  •  Teachers should not try to teach exclusively through games, but instead use games to support traditional teaching techniques (Schwartz, R.N., 2012).

  •  Game selection must be done carefully due to the wealth of low-quality games on the market (Squire, K., 2015).

  • Games must be interwoven into the curriculum and be used for the purpose of achieving specific educational goals (Sadler, T.D., et al., 2015)

  • Games that are used in the classroom must have specific goals for students to work towards and provide constant feedback regarding their progress towards that goal (Rivero, V., 2017)

  • If possible, teachers should receive professional development regarding the implementation of digital games prior to fully incorporating them into their classrooms so as to ensure they are confident and comfortable with the technology (Denham, A.R., Mayben, R., & Bowmen, T., 2016)


Some resources to check out: 

Game Based Learning Resources

This is a website which provides game-based learning resources that are hands-on, as opposed to digital. It includes additional resources and videos for follow-up help and explanation. 

Gamifying Education - Extra Credits  

Case Study for Games in Schools - Extra Credits

These two videos provide additional information about education and digital games from the perspective of a video game designer. The first video goes over games in education and the potential games have for improving learning, while the second video reviews a particular case study in which digital games were effectively implemented into a classroom.

23 Game Based Resources

This is a resource that has tools you can use for game-based learning such as Kahoot, MinecraftEDU, ClassDojo, etc. This website provides videos that you can watch if you have questions or need clarification on game-based learning or even information for those who would like to create their own games, including how to go about it.

Apps for Game Based Learning 

This website is filled with a list of educational apps that are great to use for game-based learning. They provide a description of each app and a link to where to download it, as well as appropriate age/grade ranges for each game.

Filament Games

This is the website for an educational game company which provides high quality games for use in the classroom. They have games to support learning in various subjects, including mathematics, science, and reading.


Benefits of Educational Games

Image result for playing games

There is a direct correlation between childhood brain development and playtime; play is critically important for the development of a child’s mind.  With games, we are giving children opportunities to use their imaginations to learn and understand complex concepts and ideas. Play is useful because it simulates real life experiences in a safe and social environment.  When planned and implemented correctly, games:

  •  Are typically low-stress and should take place in a low-stress environment.

  •  Encourage communication between students. When students work cooperatively on gaming activities, games foster group cooperation and create a high level of student involvement that makes them useful tools for effective teaching (Peat & Lewis, 2003).

  • Can help boost problem-solving skills, enhance reading skills, serve as bridges to other forms of reading, and expose students to social issues (Ostenson, J., 2013).

  •  Encourage learning through failure, making mistakes, and experimenting (Squire, K., 2015).

  • Can easily include all four language skills: writing, reading, speaking, and listening (Bakhsh, S.A., 2016).

  •  Give students an active role in learning. Students learn through hands-on activities and many games tend to accommodate a multitude of different learning styles (Bakhsh, S.A., 2016).

  •  Marzano (2010) explained that, of the 60 studies that he has been involved in regarding the effects of games on student achievement, “on average using academic games in the classroom is associated with a 20 percentile point gain achievement” (pg. 71).

In addition to these various benefits, the realm of digital gaming that we have come to know today has its own advantages. We are seeing video games and gaming technology become an integral part of our daily lives and of the classroom learning environment.


  •  Digital games connect with a demographic of students who heavily engage with technology on a daily basis (Sadler, T.D., et al, 2015). 

  •  Digital games are a “less intimidating and more engaging medium for students with intellectual disabilities” (Main, S., O’Rourke, J., and Morris, J., 2016, p.316)

    •  One particular game has been shown to help students with autism become better at facial recognition.

    •  Digital games can cause changes in blood pressure that simulate those felt during physical activity, which can be beneficial for students with significant motor disabilities.

  •  Digital games utilize a popular new medium of storytelling that can be more immersive than traditional storytelling media for some students (Ostenson, J., 2013).

  •  Designing video games can be a highly effective teaching method that has students reflect deeply, build design skills, and delve deep into content knowledge (Huizenga, J.C., et al, 2017).

  • Digital games are especially useful for teaching digital literacy (Apperley, T., & Beavis, C., 2010) and programming (Huizenga, J.C., et al, 2017).

  • Digital games can build students' sense of self-efficacy, which is a strong indicator of success in the sciences (Meluso, A., et al, 2011)

Potential Drawbacks

Although they have many benefits, digital games can have a multitude drawbacks that make them much more difficult to implement effectively in the classroom. Several of the drawbacks stem from the fact that digital games, especially modern educational digital games, are a relatively new phenomenon. As mentioned, they have only really existed since the 1980s and, even then, the growth of educational games in the teaching profession has been slow. Simply put, since games have not yet gained a solid footing in the classroom, the amount of research done on their pedagogical usefulness has been limited (Rivero, V., 2017). There are also many technical obstacles that hold back the usefulness of the games, as well as drawbacks which apply to both digital and traditional, hands-on games.


  •  The research, as of this writing, has not shown games to necessarily be better at teaching material than traditional, solid teaching techniques (Sadler, T.D., et al, 2015).

  •  There exists a sort of stigma against play-based learning in the classroom (Denham, A.R., Mayben, R., & Boman, T., 2016).

  •  It can be difficult for students to focus on the academic purpose of playing a game (Marklund, B.B. & Alklind Taylor, AS., 2016).

  •  Teachers may have difficulties selecting which games to use.

    •  Many games that appear flashy and beautiful are actually glorified digital worksheets (Squire, K., 2015).

    •  Teachers who wish to implement games in their classroom will likely have to sift through dozens of lackluster games in order to find one that will actually be educationally useful. 

  •  There is a significant lack of support for teachers in the area of digital gaming (Marklund, B.B. & Alklind Taylor, AS., 2016). Many teachers do not have the digital literacy necessary to utilize digital games at all, much less effectively.

  •  Since digital games rely upon technology, teachers are typically unable to troubleshoot technical issues (Marklund, B.B. & Alklind Taylor, AS., 2016).

  •  There are few professional development opportunities where teachers may go to build the technological skills necessary to properly use digital games in the classroom (Denham, A.R., Mayben, R., & Boman, T., 2016).

  •  The teacher wishing to use digital games may encounter issues such as lack of funding from the school or infrastructure that is not technologically contusive (Marklund, B.B. & Alklind Taylor, AS., 2016).

  •  Video games are time-consuming, both to set up and to use (Marklund, B.B. & Alklind Taylor, AS., 2016). 

Some difficulties with implementing digital games stem not from technical issues, but from the students themselves. Although it is often assumed that most children enjoy playing video games and are familiar with how they work, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, there exists a significant stratification in digital literacies among students (Marklund, B.B. & Alklind Taylor, AS., 2016).  


Basic Game Literacy - Extra Credits (This is a video on digital game literacy and its effects on players. This video explains in more detail why it is so important for students to gain at least some game literacy before playing digital educational games.) 


  •  Some students may be avid gamers who will figure out the intricacies of any game thrown at them, while others may have never picked up a controller in their lives.

  •  A wide gap in familiarity will often cause significant frustration for the students if they are playing games together or doing group projects (Marklund, B.B. & Alklind Taylor, AS., 2016).

    •  Advanced players may become impatient with newer players who are not picking up on the game as quickly.

    •  Newer players may become so frustrated with learning how to play that the whole process becomes unenjoyable. In fact, one of the primary reasons why students become disinterested in games is frustration (Huizenga, J.C., et al, 2017).


Final Thoughts 

In the end, is it worth the trouble of implementing educational games into the educational structures of our schools?  

This is a question that does not have a right or wrong answer. As with any teaching technique, whether or not digital games will be suitable for a classroom depends on the individual situation and class. However, provided the proper resources and preparation, digital games can have a significant positive effect in the classroom, so they are certainly worth giving a chance. 



Bakhsh, S.A. (2016, May 16) Using Games as a Tool in Teaching Vocabulary to Young Learners. English Language Teaching, 9(7), 120-128.

Denham, A.R., Mayben, R., & Boman, T. (2016) Integrating Game-Based Learning Initiative: Increasing the Usage of Game-Based Learning Within K-12 Classrooms Through Professional Learning Groups. TechTrends, 60, 70-76. Staff. (2017) Video Game History. Retrieved from 

Huizenga, J.C., ten Dam, G.T.M., Voogt, J.M., & Admiraal, W.F.. (2017, March 17) Teacher perceptions of the value of game-based learning in secondary education. Computers & Education, 110, 105-115. 

Main, S., O Rourke, J., & Morris, J. (2016) Focus on the journey, not the destination: Digital games and students with disabilities. Issues in Educational Research, 26(2), 315-331.

Marklund, B.B. & Alklind Taylor, AS. (2016) Educational Games in Practice: The challenges involved in conducting a game-based curriculum. The Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 14(2), 122-135. 

Marzano, R.J. (2010). Using Games to Enhance Student Achievement. Meeting Students Where They Are, 71-72. 

Meluso, A., Zheng, M., Spires, H.A., & Lester, J. (2012) Enhancing 5th graders' science content knowledge and self-efficacy through game-based learning. Computers & Education, 59, 497-504.

Moreno Lucas, F.M. (2017) The game as an early childhood resource for intercultural education. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 237. 908-913.  

Needleman, A. (2017, May 8) A Quick History of Educational Video Games. Gamer Professionals. Retrieved from 

Ostenson, J. (2013, July) Exploring the Boundaries of Narrative: Video Games in the English Classroom. The English Journal, 102(6), 71-789. 

Rivero, V. (2017, Sept 1) TOOLS FOR LEARNING - Spirit of Play, Game-Based Learning -- A Serious Look at Companies ‘Gaming the System’ for Academic Excellence. Internet@Schools. Retrieved from 

Robertson, J. (2012) Making games in the classroom: Benefits and gender concerns. Computers & Education, 39, 385-398. 

Sadler, T.D., Romine, L.L., Meneon, D., Fedrig, R.E., & Annetta, L. (2015, May 19) Learning Biology Through Innovative Curricula: A Comparison of Game-Based and Non-Game-Based Approaches. Science Education, 99(4), 696-720.

Schwartz, R.N. (2012) It's not whether you win or lose: integrating games into the classroom for science learning. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 7, 845-850.

Squire, K. (2015, Winter) Creating the Future of Games & Learning. Independent School, 86-90.