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Ask Dr. Universe: Video games can help us learn

Q: Can video games help us learn? – Isaac, 12

Dear Issac,

All kinds of games can help us learn, including some video games. They can be a fun and useful way to help you remember what you learn, too.

Our brains work hard each day to take in and process information. Ever since video games were invented, people have been asking if and how they might change our behavior and brains.

For example, people once thought that video games left players with poor eye-sight and poor attention. Some scientists decided to test out these ideas. Their studies have shown that players actually have better attention than non-players. Other studies have shown how some players also have sharper vision.

When it comes to learning new things, being able to focus and quickly process visual information can be helpful. But those aren’t the only things that help.

My friend and WSU education researcher Raed Alsawaier studies how different elements of games can help us learn in our classrooms or other settings outside of the virtual, video game world.

“Almost all of us grow up learning through playing,” he said.

Just think back on a time when you played a game with friends. Maybe you worked as a team. Maybe you used some creativity and imagination to solve a problem.

It appears that there are two elements to video games, in particular, that can really help us learn, Alsawaier said. One of these elements is collaboration. Learning through video games often happens when you are working with others to reach a goal.

For example, some games like Minecraft help kids learn to read and write. But the game itself doesn’t actually require you to read or write. The game also doesn’t come with a lot of instructions. Players read other people’s experiences online and write about their own.

The other element of learning through video games is, well, fun. When playing video games, people use a lot of their senses during the experience; sight to watch the screen, hearing to listen to their fellow players, and touch when using the controller.

Our senses and experiences are also tied closely to our memory, Alsawaier explains. Not only can video games give us skills that help us learn, but there’s evidence that they can help us remember what we learn, too.

We still have a lot to learn about different video games and how they affect us, but we can say, at least in part, that the answer to your question is yes.

Sincerely,

Dr. Universe

Ask Dr. Universe is a science-education project from Washington State University. Submit a question of your own at http://askDrUniverse.wsu.edu/ask.


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