I want to become better informed about gaming so I can support my students in understanding the benefits and risks associated with online gaming, and to understand how I might use them in my teaching.
Computer games are games which are played by one or more players via a digital device.
Games can be played on several platforms such as consoles (Xbox, Playstation), on mobile devices (iPad, mobile phone) or on a desktop computer.
Online games require an internet connection to play some or all the game’s content.
You might want to take a look at these YouTube Videos from the IGEA (Interactive Games & Entertainment Association) in Australia, part of the DANZ research projects.
The next IGEA Digital Australia Report provides some new empirical data on who plays video games, how they play, why they play, and attitudes towards video games in Australia. The report shows that three quarters of Australian parents and children played games together during COVID-19, and a quarter of Australian adults said they or members of their household played video games to experience “virtual travel or spaces” during the pandemic.
MOST POPULAR GAMES
There are tens of thousands of games, with new games coming out all the time - all with new features, new ways to play and new ways to compete with others online.
The Steam platform alone released over 10,000 games in 2020 so its pretty hard to keep up. And that's part of the fun: waiting for the latest game to come out.
Here are some of the most popular games with the numbers of people who play them.
PUBG 1 billion
Crossfire 1 billion
Minecraft 600 million
Candy Crush 500 million
Among Us 500 million
Fortnite 350 million
WHAT KINDS OF GAMES ARE THERE?
There are several types of games and you'll probably be familiar with them.
Single player games
You play through quests or levels against computer generated challenges (e.g. the Witcher series).
You play with and against other players (e.g. Fortnite and Call of Duty). You can buy in-game purchases such as weapons, armour or skins. These games are often divided into Real Time Strategy (RTS) games like Age of Empires) and Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games like League of Legends.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG)
Here you play with a large number of players who play in a shared environment often role-playing (e.g. World of Warcraft which is an RPG or role-playing game).
Lots of games have been designed to be played on mobile devices. There are mobile games for puzzle solving, building, role-playing or action games which can be single or multiplayer (e.g. Candy Crush, Fortnite, Clash of Clans).
Different types of games. From Maryville University.
Computer games are assigned classifications, just like movies or TV, based on levels of violence (especially realistic violence), sexual content, nudity, drug use or mature themes.
Most games are now bought online from platforms like Steam or Xbox Online. Children usually have to be 13 years old. Many platforms have parental controls to restrict game purchases for younger players.
WHAT'S GREAT ABOUT THEM?
Many games (especially RPGs) offer a rich storytelling experience in a similar fashion to fantasy novels. The world and lore of many RPG games are detailed and extensive.
Gamers who play with others develop collaborative and communication skills as they work together with others. Games often include challenging levels or features that require a team to complete.
Gamers develop problem solving skills and must learn to plan ahead and think critically.
Competitive games require players to develop fast reflexes and decision making. Quick thinking can make the difference between victory and defeat.
WHAT ARE SOME DOWNSIDES?
Players of multiplayer games can encounter abusive and bullying behaviour, especially when playing games with random players and especially with the use of headsets for voice communication.
Some games can include realistic violence and sexual content and are not suitable for younger players.
Incidence of gaming addiction is becoming an increasing concern. This is where players are unable to control their gaming behaviour. In 2021, Chinese authorities imposed limits on online gaming for minors to three hours a week — from 8 PM to 9 PM on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Befriending or grooming of younger players can happen in ongoing shared gaming experiences.
GAMES IN learning and TEACHING
Educational computer games have been employed for decades in teaching and you will have many examples of them - probably, for younger students, the use of Minecraft as a teaching tool in science, maths and the humanities.
But in general, the use of online gaming as a teaching tool is not widespread in education. One of the reasons for this is that teachers often don’t have insight into the kinds of games students typically play outside of school, and that games are typically seen as a solitary recreational activity.
But esports - where students play competitively in leagues - is challenging this stereotype, and many schools are signing onto esports leagues such as the FUSE Cup. Successful participation in an esports team requires collaboration skills, active listening, adaption to challenges and players need to contribute their own perspectives and viewpoints to gameplay - all in real time.
Some of the benefits of online gaming are now recognised to include:
Improved communication skills
In many games, especially a team playing multiplayer games, good communication skills are essential. Video games require peer interaction for the sharing information or pitching strategic ideas. Games also require fluency in using a variety of ways of communicating - text messaging, voice, or video.
Better spatial awareness
Playing action-based video games improves the ability to locate a target stimulus among distractions. Sustained gameplay can help students improve their spatial awareness and ability to multitask, and the repetition characteristic of these games helps players improve their motor skills and reaction times.
An appreciation of teamwork
Many multiplayer games are team-oriented and require students to understand their strengths and weaknesses - along with the strengths and weaknesses of others. These kinds of skills are part of the larger suite of 'soft skills' that students find valuable in other areas of learning.
An opportunity to apply problem-solving skills
Most games are goal-oriented and require focus and discipline. The achievement of multiple levels of goals requires persistence and resilience in the face of failures or setbacks - all valuable transferrable skills.
News coverage of Australian esports competition The FUSE Cup 2020 QLD Finals on YouTube.
MORE ABOUT GAMING
There are a lot of resources to look at about gaming in learning, but perhaps a good start is to learn more about the history of online gaming, where it is now and where it's headed.
Early computer games. You might want to take a look at this Netflix documentary called HIGH SCORE (MA15+) that's all about the first video games and about how the gaming industry developed into what it is today.
Gaming addiction. Jonas Odell, a Swedish filmmaker, conducted interviews with gaming addicts. Three of these appear in his short documentary I Was a Winner. The interviewees are embodied in animated re-creations of their gaming avatars. Video from The Atlantic on YouTube.
League of Legends Origins is a documentary that looks behind the scenes during the early days of the game League of Legends, the world’s most played PC game and the world’s largest esport.
Using action games to teach. One of the most popular games platforms is Steam which has around 120 million monthly active players. It has an education category which includes a variety of game types including puzzle, strategy, simulation and adventure games.
One adventure game on Steam is Half-Life: Alyx, a first person shooter (FPS), virtual reality (VR) game in which, playing as the character Alyx Vance, you fight against a vicious alien race known as the Combine.
This game was used by US teacher Charles Coomber in his maths class to teach facts about supplementary, complementary, vertical, and adjacent angles in a multi-step problem to write and solve simple equations for an unknown angle in a figure. Watch this video of Charles' Math Teacher's Virtual Reality Class on YouTube.
You can learn more about Steam in this video tutorial from GamingTaylor on YouTube.
THE FUTURE OF GAMING
As a teacher who wants to understand where gaming is heading, and to incorporate gaming in your teaching, it's important to understand the trends in gaming. Here are some of them.
Augmented Reality and Virtual reality
Augmented Reality (where game-like elements are overlaid over the real world using a mobile device) and Virtual Reality (where VR headsets are used to recreate completely virtual words) are likely to feature more in games. Additionally, games will become much more realistic using photorealism, using tools like Unreal Engine 4. They allow developers to create images which are more lifelike.
5G networks, which offer a much faster gaming experience, will allow games to be streamed much faster. This offers new opportunities for using these games in teaching, using not just PC platforms and wifi networks but also mobile devices. The ability to add geolocation (using a device's location capabilities) provides an opportunity to use games that relate to real world places.
Buying a game online often requires time-consuming downloading, older hardware may not be fast enough to play the game, and many computers - especially in an education setting - prevent the the installation of software. Cloud Gaming allows the streaming of games in real time which may make it easier for students and teachers to use games in an educational context. Google's Stadia service streams games without the need for installs, downloads or update in a way similar to how Netflix works.
Up until now, games have been developed by a narrow demographic of developers and appeal to a narrow demographic of gamers. This set to change, and the games that result we will a greater range of diverse characters built by more inclusive game development teams. Some games are removing traditional male and female character designations.
This means that teachers can use gaming to support the teaching of social justice issues, as you can see in this video about diversity in the game The Sims on YouTube.
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is also starting to be used in video games.
One application is to build new games in collaboration with a creator - who could be a student or a teacher. The process would result in entirely new games based on the AI's ability to learn.
Although this technology is not yet in widespread use, there are some interesting examples like Lab Assistant, a puzzle game where you solve puzzles with your chemical slime by teaching it text commands.