Libraries, Education, and Video Games: Press X to Start

Gaming goes beyond entertainment

A person, maybe a librarian or instructor, standing in front of a board with a video game controller on it

When many people think of video games, they generally don’t consider them a source of education. Video games are a multibillion-dollar industry. They’re not just entertainment; they can also be a source of education. Indeed, there are more video games than just Mario and Call of Duty, and many can be used in an educational setting. So just how exactly can video games be used in an educational setting, and what does this mean for teachers and librarians?  

Educational applications for video games

So, the first question: how can video games be used in education? The answer to that is they already have been. Many people remember playing the original Oregon Trail in school to learn about the historical Oregon Trail and the tribulations of those who traveled it. But, unless you are familiar with games or know what to look for, you may not know what is currently available or how games have changed. Many games can be considered wholly educational, whereas others were created for entertainment but can also be used in an educational setting.

Many games were created with education in mind. These games can cover different topics, from mathematics to science and language. One example of a game that bolsters mathematical understanding is Super Algebrawl. In this game, players conduct fantasy battles, in which they use mathematical concepts to defeat monsters. Due to its fun nature, this game can benefit students who may have difficulty in various areas of math. Another game is Turing Complete, which can help users understand computer wiring, especially CPU architecture. This allows students to not only understand how different aspects of computers work but also develop their use of logic through puzzles. One last example is Languages: Learn Japanese. This is a purely educational game that allows users to understand a different language in a fun way. These are just a small sampling of the various educational games that have been created and are available on Steam.  

While wholly educational games are available, there are a great deal more entertainment games that can also be used for education. One of these games is Kerbal Space Program. This game lets players build and launch a space rocket. Despite the fictional elements, much of the rocket building, launching, and flying are based on realistic physics. Physics in general can be an overwhelming topic and this game can help players become familiar with it.

Another game that can be used in an educational setting in a completely different way is the farming simulator Stardew Valley.This game focuses on the main character who works on a farm and meets various members of the nearby town. It has various quests, and players can make different choices, ranging from the mundane to the magical. For education, it can be used as a creative writing prompt. Many students may have problems with creative writing assignments but can put in hundreds of hours into video games like Stardew Valley. By using these games in creative writing assignments, students who previously had trouble with these tasks may excel.

The last example of an entertainment game example that can be used for education is This War of Mine. (This game is rated M+ for its themes.) It allows players to play as refugees in a war-torn city and is based on civilian experiences in war, including the Siege of Sarajevo from the Bosnian War. The game follows groups of refugees, and players must decide how to survive. For many people, they have no idea what living under a modern siege is like. This game allows players to experience that in some small way.

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How teachers and librarians can connect students with video games

As these examples show, video games can be, and should be, considered in educational settings, but what does this mean for librarians and teachers? Teachers need to be open to the idea of including video games in the curriculum or at least allowing students to write and conduct research about them. Video games are varied and there is a plethora of ways for them to be included in research and classes.

For librarians, there are ways to make these games available to patrons. Many libraries offer physical PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo games, which are easy enough to lend out. However, the games listed here are from the PC Steam store. More games are being released digitally, so they will not have a physical medium available for checkout. Also, many smaller games are released only on PC through Steam and are not available for those with consoles. To solve this problem, many university libraries are buying copies of the Steam titles and making them available for patrons to come in and play on specially designated computers.

As the Extended Reality and Gaming Librarian, I have suggested many of these games and others to different students and classes. For students in the humanities, I pointed out that different games can be used to show character development, help with creative writing, and show literature comparisons between original works and games based on the works. This has encouraged students to look at games in a different light, not just for entertainment but also research.

For many years, video games have largely been relegated to “only” being for entertainment. While this may continue to be one of their primary functions, it is not the only one. Video games are now being used to show different aspects of psychosis and mental health, avenues of history, and aspects of science. The ones listed here are a tiny sampling of the different games that can be used in education. Many professors are already using board games and video games in their classrooms. By exploring more games, teachers and librarians may find educational ways to use video games that they could have never before imagined.

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