Video Games and Learning

February 12, 2016 – Volume 26, Issue 7
Do games help students in the classroom? By Alicia Ault


A fifth-grader plays “Minecraft” (Getty Images/The Chicago Tribune/Chuck Berman)  
A fifth-grader plays “Minecraft” to help him understand what he reads in “The Hobbit” at Quest Academy in Palatine, Ill. Many educators are using video games to help teach history, science and other subjects as well as to sharpen students' critical-thinking skills and improve attention skills. (Getty Images/The Chicago Tribune/Chuck Berman)

From “Candy Crush” to “Call of Duty,” some 150 million Americans play video games, including all but a small fraction of children. The global spread of technology and migration of video games to mobile devices have helped propel the industry to record sales — $61 billion worldwide in 2015. Among the biggest converts to video games are educators, who are using them to teach such subjects as history, geography, science and math and to hone students' critical-thinking abilities. Meanwhile, developers are creating games to improve attention skills in children with ADHD, delay cognitive decline in adults, help recovering stroke victims and improve corporate customer service. But questions remain about video games' effectiveness at enhancing learning and cognition and whether games promote addiction or shorten attention spans. And while half of players are women, critics say gaming culture discourages female participation, a problem that could have ramifications for education as games become more prominent in schools.

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Elizabeth Box's seventh-grade civics students in rural Okeechobee, Fla., were struggling, but not many seemed too bothered by failing grades or poor understanding of the concepts.

Parents didn't seem to be concerned, either. Many in the small, lower-income city did not have secondary education, and Spanish, not English, was the primary language for a good number of them.

“We had a real problem in our community with general apathy towards academics,” says Box.

Box searched for new ways to engage her students, eventually ending up creating a video game involving an apocalyptic future world in which the United States has been mostly destroyed and a dictatorship has taken over. The players discover ancient documents — including the Constitution — and are tasked with various missions to rebuild the U.S. government.

Box's “Give Me Liberty” was a hit. The students, who already were playing games on their smartphones, jumped at the opportunity to compete against themselves and their classmates.

However, state exam scores for her class have been mixed: 65 percent passed in the 2013–14 school year — the first year the game was used — but only 48 percent in 2014–15, according to Box, as students still wrestled with civics concepts.

Despite the mediocre scores, student engagement has improved markedly, she says. “They love it because they aren't being forced to move forward when they don't understand,” Box says. Instead, they can just keep trying the missions until they get it right. “I've seen kids not just working in the classroom but going home at night and pursuing the work there,” she says. “If my way of doing things encourages them to enjoy learning and take pride in their work, then that is what I consider success.”

Nearly half of the nation's population plays video games, and the games increasingly are being played on smartphones and other mobile devices (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Simon Dawson)  
Nearly half of the nation's population plays video games, and the games increasingly are being played on smartphones and other mobile devices. As more educators adapt to gaming, questions remain about games' effectiveness at enhancing learning and cognition, and whether games promote addiction or shorten attention spans. (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Simon Dawson)

Box is leveraging two powerful trends to engage her students — recreational gaming and “gamification,” or the use of games by educators and companies to turn work into a game that engages players by having them earn points or gifts. Educators use such games to help teach humanities, science and math. So-called serious games are also used for training and simulation and to improve health or manage diseases and even explore subjects such as climate change, cancer and moral dilemmas.

Gamification is on the rise. According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey, half of the experts surveyed predicted that gamification would become a major factor in education, health care and the workplace by 2020.1 Students play digital games at least once a week in their classrooms, according to more than half of the teachers surveyed in 2013 by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, the nonprofit organization that developed the “Sesame Street” television show.2

Recreational video games are a bigger phenomenon than gamification. The global spread of technology and the migration of video games to mobile devices helped propel the industry to record sales of $61 billion worldwide in 2015.3 Americans alone spent $22.4 billion on games, hardware and accessories in 2014, according to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). More than 150 million Americans — nearly half the population — play video games on a personal computer (PC), TV, game console or portable device, with 42 percent playing at least three hours a week, ESA said.4 About 10 percent of Americans identify themselves as “gamers,” according to Pew.5

Overall, men and women play at equal rates, but, when separated out by age, younger men, ages 18-29, and women over 50 play more than those of the opposite gender in these age groups, said Pew.6 And 97 percent of children play computer and video games.7

The term “video games” encompasses best-selling PC-based games (“Minecraft”), social media-embedded games (“Candy Crush”), smartphone apps (“Angry Birds”), console-based action games (“Grand Theft Auto”) and massively multiplayer online games (“World of Warcraft”). Games also can be streamed on YouTube, and enthusiasts can watch others play games on websites such as Twitch.

PC, Mobile Games Top 2015 Revenue  

“What was once considered a weird hobby of computer nerds or a part of youth culture in the golden age of arcade games has become a leading entertainment sector of the mainstream culture,” wrote Rachel Kowert, a research psychologist on the board of the Finland-based Digital Games Research Association, and Thorsten Quandt, a professor of communication studies at the University of Münster, Germany, in their 2016 book, The Video Game Debate. 8

Now several foundations — including the Cooney Center, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — are pouring millions of dollars into figuring out how to use video games for education. And the National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent federal agency that promotes scientific research, has provided millions of dollars in grants for game development.9 The U.S. Department of Education is also supporting the development of educational games, and President Obama in 2011 called for investments in digital education technologies, including games.10

“Ten years ago, we had a lot of questions about whether you could get anything serious out of a game,” says Chris Hoadley, an NSF program director. Now, he says, it's clear that “serious games can enhance not only acquisition of facts or specific onscreen skills but also some of the more fuzzy, squishy, 21st-century things like leadership, teamwork and agency” — the sense that they are making their own free choices.

“Games give children autonomy and agency, helping them design their own solutions, collaborate with friends and create natural ‘affinity groups’ that help bring learning alive outside the classroom,” wrote journalist Greg Toppo, in The Game Believes in You. 11 “For the skills-and-assessment type, games scratch an equally essential itch: They frontload massive amounts of content, offer focused and efficient drill-and-practice, build on prior knowledge, strengthen grit and, at the end of the day, deliver a personalized performance data stream that would make the most hard-assed psychometrician smile,” said Toppo, referring to someone who measures the psychological attributes, skills and abilities needed to work in a particular job or profession.

“Video games clearly offer opportunities for learning,” says Marcia Linn, a professor of development and cognition at the University of California, Berkeley. However, she says, “not all games help people learn.”

Ron Smith, a program coordinator at Helen Bernstein High School in Los Angeles, agreed. “The ‘game theory’ school is overblown,” he told the Pew Research Center in 2010. “I am not convinced that there is a correlation between gaming and academic success in low-achieving students, and high achievers will thrive anywhere.”12

Meanwhile, decades-long debates continue about the potential harmful effects of games, including whether some contribute to violent behavior and whether gaming might lead to social isolation or addiction to gaming. Growing screen time is leading to worries about shortening the attention spans of developing brains. Thirteen-to-18-year-olds consume an average of nine hours of digital media a day, and 8-to-12-year-olds six hours — not counting time spent doing school or homework online, reported Common Sense Media, a San Francisco nonprofit that promotes safe technology and media use for children.13

“Children now spend more time with digital media than with any other single influence,” said the American Academy of Pediatrics in October 2015.14 The organization is expected to issue new recommendations by November on managing children's digital media consumption.

Others worry that as educators adopt games as a teaching tool, lack of access to broadband, Wi-Fi or computers could put rural or lower-income schools at a disadvantage, exacerbating the so-called digital divide.15

Women have fought for recognition and acceptance in game design and game play and have become increasingly vocal about wanting equal consideration. In 2014, the growing public debate about the lack of diversity in gaming triggered a digital culture war that included online harassment and death threats against those — mostly women — who spoke out. The “Gamergate” controversy has yet to subside.16

Some educators and academics say the exclusion of women and minorities, including LGBT people, and the lack of female and minority characters could affect the learning sphere. “The cultural pressures that are preventing women from getting into these games are hurting our country's ability to be competitive in science, technology, engineering and math fields,” says Rabindra Ratan, an assistant professor in the Department of Media and Information, at Michigan State University.

As research about potential benefits or downsides of video games evolves, here are some issues under debate:

Do video games help people learn?

For years, video game enthusiasts have said that well-designed games can impart learning through play alone. Games are especially good at motivation due to their reinforcing reward systems, they say. But the debate on whether — and how — games can enhance learning is far from finished.

Well-designed games contain good principles for learning, according to James Paul Gee, author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. The professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University said those principles:

  • Offer players strong identities;

  • Make players think like scientists;

  • Lower the consequences of failure;

  • Enable players to practice challenges until they get it right; and

  • Encourage players to think about relationships, instead of just isolated facts and events.17

What people learn in video games is not always good, but it is often good learning, Gee said. Good learning comes from “social and interactional systems within which a powerful technology like video games is placed, not from the game all by itself,” he said.18

Majority Say Video Games Improve Thinking  

“A crappy game is not going to be good for learning, but neither is a crappy book,” agrees Constance Steinkuehler, a Gee disciple and co-director of the Games+Learning+Society (GLS) center at the Wisconsin Institute of Discovery at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Games for learning need to be “beautifully built, engaging and with child development in mind,” Steinkuehler says.

Douglas Clark, an associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College, said the important question is “how games can support learning.”19 In a meta-analysis examining the findings from several studies on games and learning published from 2000 to 2012, the data indicated that game-playing students outperformed nonplayers “in terms of cognitive, intrapersonal and interpersonal learning outcomes,” Clark said. But he and his colleagues said they would “argue against simplistic quotations of findings suggesting that games universally outperform non-game learning approaches.”20

Studies showing that games can improve learning are abundant. Another meta-analysis reported in 2013 in an American Psychological Association journal found many benefits, including improvements in spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception.21

Games designed for education, such as “River City,” are “not only engaging but also help learners acquire deep science-inquiry skills and conceptual knowledge,” said the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Innovative Research in Cyber-Learning.22 In the game, middle school students try to figure out why so many residents of a 19th-century river town have become ill.

But most game developers are still struggling to find the right formula for learning, said John L. Sherry, an associate professor in the Department of Communication and the Cognitive Science Program at Michigan State University. There is no game equivalent to “Sesame Street” despite decades of effort, he said. “We have a large and growing catalog of games that are pedagogically or scientifically sound but lack fun, or games that are fun to play but lack necessary content or pedagogy,” he said. Sherry also said learning studies are riddled with flaws, and that results are too general to have much meaning.23

Richard Mayer, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, agrees that good evidence is hard to find. “In contrast to the claims made by game advocates, researchers are charged with the much less glamourous task of testing the claims in rigorous scientific studies,” he wrote.24

“There's some evidence in some cases that people can learn from educational games, but they have to be designed based on sound instructional design principles,” Mayer says.

Brain training games have received extra scrutiny. In October 2014, scientists from the Stanford Center on Longevity, and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and elsewhere warned that the games were only exploiting older people's fear of losing their memory.25

“To date, there is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life,” the scientists said. The statement elicited anger from more than 100 researchers who wrote to the Stanford group and said they strongly disagreed.26

The Federal Trade Commission has taken a dim view of brain training. In January 2016, Lumos Labs agreed to pay a $2 million fine for making what the federal agency said were deceptive and unfounded claims that its Lumosity games improve memory and reduce cognitive decline.27

Pediatricians also have been dubious about video games, especially when it comes to toddlers, whose developing brains may be more susceptible to benefits and harms.

“There is hope that these media might provide a new platform for learning for young children,” says David Hill, chairman of the Council on Communications and Media at the American Academy of Pediatrics. But, he notes, “the data we have available at this time do not point in that direction.”

Do video games have harmful effects?

Video games frequently induce what psychologists call a “moral panic” — when public fears and government interventions exceed the perceived threat — primarily over the violent or sexually explicit content of some games, according to authors Kowert and Quandt.28

“Mortal Kombat” — in which players are encouraged to maim and kill opponents in bloody hand-to-hand combat — triggered a public backlash when it was introduced in the early 1990s. In early versions of the game, a player rips off his opponent's head and pulls out his spine, part of a signature “fatality” finishing move. A 1993 Senate hearing on “Mortal Kombat” and other violent video games helped persuade the industry to rate most games sold in the United States and Canada. Game makers now voluntarily label games “Teen,” (for 13 and up) “Mature” (for 17 and up) or “Adults Only” (18 and over; content may include intense violence, graphic sex and/or gambling with real currency).29

Bloody first-person “shooter” games like “Doom” — reportedly played obsessively by the two teens who killed 13 people at a Columbine, Colo., high school in 1999 — also caused an uproar. In 2012, a devotee of the bloody war game “Call of Duty” killed 28 people, including 20 children, at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Such mass shootings prompted calls to restrict or ban violent video game sales. But since the mid-2000s various courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have ruled in 13 cases that video games are protected speech.30

Characters from “Assassin's Creed” are presented at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 (Getty Images/David McNew)  
Characters from “Assassin's Creed” are presented at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, last June in Los Angeles. Gaming is more popular among older women than older men. In the over-age-50 bracket, 38 percent of women play games compared with 29 percent of men. Older women generally play more “casual” games, including “Candy Crush,” “Just Dance” and “The Sims,” while men favor action and shoot-'em-ups like “Creed.” (Getty Images/David McNew)

Aggression has been an ongoing concern. Some of the most commercially successful games — such as “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto” — are graphically violent. It's a hotly debated topic, with many observers vehemently denying a link between gaming and violence and others equally convinced there is a cause and effect.

The Pew Research Center found that 40 percent of Americans think violent games induce violence in players, while 53 percent disagreed. About a third of game players agreed there was a connection between games and violence.31

The American Psychological Association has said playing violent games is linked to increased aggression but stopped short of saying that play leads directly to violence.32 “To date, there is very limited research addressing whether violent video games cause people to commit acts of criminal violence,” said Mark Appelbaum, chair of an association task force that reviewed studies published between 2005 and 2013.33

The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that media violence “is a risk factor for aggressive behavior.”34 But the manifestation of that aggression depends on many factors, including “the child's home life, self-esteem, support network, health and temperament,” the group said.35

Hill, of the academy's Council on Communications and Media, says “there are truly overwhelming data supporting a strong correlation between aggressive behavior and aggressive thought patterns and violent media consumption, including violent video games.” If video games indeed do teach, “it's logical to accept the premise that they're good at whatever they're designed to teach” — including violent behavior, he says.

Chris Ferguson, who has been researching games and violence since 2004, says there are only “small correlations” between video games and aggression, and that “correlation doesn't mean causation.” Ferguson, co-chair of the Department of Psychology at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., sees inherent biases in how video games are studied and in how doctors perceive games because of what he says is a lack of familiarity with gaming and preconceived notions about harmful effects. Ferguson found in a 2015 survey that older researchers and doctors were more likely to view games negatively.36

Hill, however, likens Ferguson to a climate change denier, saying, “I remain skeptical of his methodology, and I do not find what he's published convincing.”

Technologies “do not have any effects, good or bad, all by themselves,” said Arizona State University's Gee. What matters most is how games are used and in what context, he said.37 For instance, children raised in violent or abusive households may use violent games as an outlet for their anger, he said.

“Most of the studies that say games are harmful don't hold up in terms of their validity,” says Scot Osterweil, creative director of the MIT Education Arcade, which funds game development and research. Like Gee, he says games alone should not be blamed for addiction or antisocial or obsessive behavior, but that different types of media are frequently singled out. “When I was a kid, parents worried about kids who read all the time because that was not a well-socialized kid,” he says.

Addiction appears to be a problem in less than 10 percent of players, but experts have not formed a consensus on how to define or diagnose the condition, often known as Internet gaming disorder.38 Before publishing its most recent edition of the authoritative Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association said more study was required before gaming addiction could be deemed an official condition.39 Current criteria for the disorder include preoccupation with Internet games, withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away and continued excessive use of games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems.40

Some have suggested that gaming addiction is a compulsive behavior driven by personality traits, such as introversion, neuroticism and low emotional intelligence.41 Another study found that extended game play may cause hyperconnectivity in the brain — an overload of communications connections — that may feed underlying psychiatric issues.42

Douglas Gentile, associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, said the ready availability of games fuels what he thinks is a growing addiction problem. Gentile has found other potentially harmful effects, such as attention problems, stemming from both excessive television viewing and video game exposure.43

Pediatricians worry about other harms. “Language acquisition is impaired in young children who watch a lot of passive screen media,” says Hill. In very young children, “we know that face-to-face interaction is best,” he says, adding, “To the extent that these devices distract from face-to-face interaction it's likely it's robbing children of the best opportunity to learn.”

A 2015 study found that 10-to-16-month-olds who played with electronic toys used fewer adult words and vocalized less than a comparison group that used traditional toys and books.44

Is there a diversity gap in gaming?

Are video games for straight, white men only? That question emerged in a fiery debate in 2014 that started off ostensibly as an online discussion about ethics in gaming journalism and quickly grew into a mostly misogynistic backlash against demands for more diversity in gaming.

Views Differ on Video Game Bias  

“On one side are independent game-makers and critics, many of them women, who advocate for greater inclusion in gaming,” wrote Washington Post technology columnist Caitlyn Dewey. “On the other side of the equation are a motley alliance of vitriolic naysayers: misogynists, anti-feminists, trolls, people convinced they're being manipulated by a left-leaning and/or corrupt press, and traditionalists who just don't want their games to change.”45

Dewey was describing “Gamergate,” the name given to the hate storm — punctuated by threats of death or rape — that erupted against critics, particularly women, who asserted that females are underrepresented as developers and executives in the gaming industry and characterized in games primarily as hypersexualized bimbos or targets for violence.

The issues raised by Gamergate may not be familiar to the general public. Pew found that more than 40 percent of Americans were unsure whether women and minorities were portrayed poorly in video games. The group found that blacks, whites and Hispanics play video games at about the same rates, but that Hispanics are more likely to identify as gamers.46

The games themselves in 2015 were slightly more diverse, featuring more female leads — and more who weren't amply-busted damsels in distress — but the number of playable minority characters remained “pitiful,” according to the tech website Mashable.47

Academics, game players and educators have long debated whether gaming has a diversity gap. The Gamergate controversy, which continued into 2015, highlighted long-running complaints that gaming culture is not only misogynistic but frequently racist and homophobic, and that the diversity gap could have long-term negative consequence by discouraging women and minorities from going into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

Software engineer Brianna Wu founded “Giant Spacekat,” which features games with female protagonists (Getty Images/The Boston Globe/Joanne Rathe)  
Software engineer Brianna Wu founded “Giant Spacekat,” which features games with female protagonists. Wu and others who criticized what they see as misogyny in the gaming industry faced abuse and death threats from gamers in the “Gamergate” controversy. The critics asserted that females are underrepresented as developers and executives in the gaming industry and are characterized in games primarily as hypersexualized bimbos or targets for violence. (Getty Images/The Boston Globe/Joanne Rathe)

“Gaming culture has been pretty misogynistic for a long time now. There's ample evidence of that over and over again,” Kate Edwards, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, said about Gamergate. “What we're finally seeing is that it became so egregious that now companies are starting to wake up and say, ‘We need to stop this. This has got to change.’”48

Some gamers, developers and company executives condemned the attacks, saying an abusive, exclusionary environment was bad for gaming, and the controversy spurred some companies to start new programs to bring more women and minorities into the industry. For instance, Intel pledged $300 million to help transform itself into a more diverse company by hiring more women and minorities in its games division.49 And last June, the company announced it was establishing a $125 million fund for female- and minority-led tech start-ups and supporting the game developers' association initiative to double the number of female developers by 2025.50

At least one developer, Brad Wardell, said gaming absolutely is a male-dominated field but that it is not intentional. “Demographically speaking, core gaming is 95 percent-plus men,” said Wardell, president and CEO of Stardock Corp. in Plymouth, Mich. The lack of women in gaming “has nothing to do with being inclusive,” he said. “If a universal utility is overwhelmingly used by men, there's no scenario where core gaming is going to do better at attracting women. Women simply have different hobbies than men. And that's fine.”51

The statistical gap between the percentage of men and women who play video games is closing, but differences remain. Among those ages 18 to 29, Pew finds that 77 percent of players are male. One-third of young men call themselves “gamers,” compared with only 9 percent of young women.52 Common Sense Media found that teen boys spend an average of 56 minutes a day playing video games, while girls spend an average of seven minutes.53

Gaming is more popular among older women than older men, with 38 percent over age 50 playing games, compared with 29 percent of men in that age bracket. Women — especially older women — generally play more “casual” games, including “Candy Crush,” “Just Dance,” and “The Sims,” while men seem to favor action and shoot-'em-ups like “Assassin's Creed,” “Halo” and “Call of Duty,” according to the video game market research company Newzoo.54

Stephanie Llamas, a senior analyst for the New York-based games data company SuperData Research, takes exception to that simple characterization. Women are the largest gaming demographic for the noncasual PC role-playing games (54 percent) and represent almost 40 percent of massively multiplayer online (MMO) game players and digital console gamers, she said. MMOs allow huge numbers of people to compete against each other, no matter where they live or what language they speak.

“Not only have women grown their stake as gamers in general, they have shown a desire to be more active participants in the gaming community as a whole,” she said.55

Newzoo confirms that the number of girls and women who played console-based video games (not casual games) five or more days a week grew from 1.2 million in 2011 to 5 million in 2014.56

But a cultural divide exists between male and female players, in part due to concerted industry marketing to boys, says Erin Robinson Swink, creative director of a master's degree program in games and playable media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “I don't think it was a natural thing that happened. It was a very artificial boundary of what a game is and who wants to play them,” says Swink, who previously was an independent game designer.

Adrienne Shaw, an assistant professor in Temple University's Department of Media Studies and Production, agreed the industry has focused too much on marketing to people who identify as “gamers,” marginalizing women, minorities and LGBT people. People who play games are much more than just gamers, Shaw said. “We could see much better games if people felt like this was not a medium that caters only to super fans,” she wrote.57

Ratan, of Michigan State University, says when women do play they may be reluctant to fully engage or fade into the background because of pressure they feel from male players. In one study, he found that even though women gained skill at the same rate as men in the MMO game “League of Legends,” they were less confident of their skills and focused more on helping a male partner advance than themselves.58

“The culture around these competitive games is what causes the gap,” says Ratan. In addition, he says, women who feel stereotyped as poor performers or less-skilled in games tend to believe that they, or other women, are less suited for careers in STEM fields.

UC Berkeley's Linn says she, too, thinks that such stereotypical views in gaming could reinforce ideas that women can't succeed in STEM careers. But she also says lack of access to technology could be a bigger obstacle to increasing diversity in gaming.

Box, the Florida middle school teacher, sees no differences between boys and girls. “Some of the girls are just as cutthroat about their gaming as the boys are,” she says. She only sees individual variations in approaches to the game, not a gender divide.

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From Tennis to Angry Birds

As television and computers evolved, so did video games. Some say video games helped drive the computer revolution.

“No one can deny that the ubiquitous invasion of computers into the home was started by the video game console,” said Ralph H. Baer, a German-born American engineer who in 1966 invented the idea of playing games on a TV. Baer said the rise of video games, with its demand for better processing speeds and memory capacity, increased graphics capability, improved art design and better user interfaces, helped to shift the United States into “a truly technological society.”59

Scientists first created a crude arcade-type game in 1940, displaying it at the New York World's Fair. By 1950, renowned British mathematician Alan Turing and a colleague had each simultaneously programmed the first chess-playing computer.60

Throughout the 1950s, computer scientists created more game-playing computers, but many consider the antecedent of video games to be “Tennis for Two,” developed by William A. Higinbotham, a physicist who helped design the first atomic bomb.61 Higinbotham was working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory — a nuclear research facility — on Long Island when he debuted the ping pong-like game, displayed on a monochrome oscilloscope screen and employing two control boxes with knobs to serve and hit a simulated ball. Brookhaven employees spent hours waiting to play the novelty, which was only displayed for two years.

The game had a greater purpose. Higinbotham built it as an attraction for visitors, who could play it during public tours of the lab. He hoped it would put the public at ease about the lab's nuclear weapons work.62

In 1962, members of the model railroad club at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used a new, high-speed, mini-computer called the PDP-1 to fashion the two-player game “Spacewar!” The game, in which players controlled spaceships that shot torpedoes at each other, became so popular “that some rules had to be laid down: no ‘Spacewar’ except during lunch hour and after 5 pm,” said club member J. M. Graetz.63

Although “Spacewar” was first played by geeks, it eventually was loaded onto every PDP computer built by Digital Equipment and influenced the Atari arcade game “Asteroids.”64

Baer, who became known as “the Father of Video Games,” began thinking about how to capitalize on the growing number of TV sets in American homes.65 By 1967, he had come up with the Brown Box, a unit covered in faux-wood-patterned vinyl with two controls and program cards for games such as ping-pong, checkers, sports games and target shooting. It was licensed to Magnavox, which sold it as the Odyssey in 1972.66

It was the first, albeit crude, video game console, a device that connected to a TV, functioned like a computer and was designed for interactive video game display and play.67 Odyssey, however, failed to entrance many Americans — only 200,000 units were sold in three years.68

Magnavox soon had competition: Atari's “Pong.” The ping-pong-like game was introduced in 1972 as a coin-operated arcade game. The home game, sold exclusively through Sears, was a massive hit, selling 150,000 games in its first year, 1975.69 By 1980, sales of Atari's next-generation home gaming console, the Atari 2600, were booming, with 2 million sold, fueled by the extremely popular “Space Invaders,” which came with the console.70 Atari eventually sold more than 27 million of the 2600 units, making it one of the first big home gaming successes.71

Video games soon hit a bump, however: U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in 1982 declared them a health hazard to children, warning that they could be addictive and promote violence.72 As the home video market became saturated, Americans seemed to be bored with gaming. Retailers thought video games were a passing fad and started pulling game-related merchandise from their shelves.73 The industry crashed.

But the crash was short-lived. With the introduction of the hugely popular “Pac-Man,” “Donkey Kong” and “Mario Bros.” at the arcade and games for the growing number of home use platforms, the 1980s eventually became known as the “Golden Age” of video games. Sales reached billions of dollars.

Game makers then decided to target children. Companies like Nintendo told parents they could monitor and restrict game playing through special built-in controls on their consoles. Video games started to be viewed as toys, helping to reboot the industry.74

In the meantime, computers — such as the Commodore, Apple II and Macintosh — became smaller and were brought into the home, creating a huge market for video games for those devices and expanding the audience for gaming.

In 1989 Nintendo introduced the Game Boy, a hand-held battery-powered mini-console that made gaming almost ubiquitous for children of a certain age and led to successive generations of portable gaming. Home gaming took another leap with the introduction of more compact, newer-generation consoles made by Nintendo and Sega in the mid-1980s and early '90s. By 1995, Sony unveiled its PlayStation, which became the market leader. The PlayStation 2 is the best-selling console in history, with more than 150 million units sold.75

In the mid-2000s, Nintendo's Wii simulator console burst onto the scene, allowing players to virtually bowl, play tennis, golf or have dance-offs in their living rooms. Sales reached more than 100 million units worldwide.

In 2000, Sega crossed the next frontier: consoles that could be connected to the Internet. Sega's Dreamcast allowed players to download games and play with millions of others around the world. Although that device failed commercially, it paved the way for the next generation — Microsoft's Xbox Live and Sony's PlayStation Network — which helped popularize massively multiplayer online games and allowed players to chat and strategize in real-time.76

By 2009, 41 percent of American households owned a video game console, a number that has remained steady through 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.77

The Internet also revolutionized gaming on computers. Players could go to game sites and play online or download games. According to ESA, the computer has overtaken the dedicated console as the device of choice for gaming in the United States.78

The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010 created more ways to play games, leading to a big shift in the market. The simplistic game “Angry Birds” leveraged the popularity of handheld devices and was one of the first smartphone applications to become a giant hit among many different players. By 2011 — two years after it was introduced — “Angry Birds” had been downloaded 50 million times.79

Smartphones are now used by 35 percent of American game players, and one-third play social games — those involving more than one player. Fourteen percent play puzzle, card, and board games; only 5 percent of the games played on handheld mobile devices are action games.

Serious Play

Not all games were developed for recreational purposes. So-called serious games arose simultaneously, first on computers and then on consoles, smartphones and tablets.

Serious games are used for recruitment, training and simulations for the military, corporations and health care; educational games used in K-12 classrooms; and “Games for Good,” which teach, train or generate awareness or critical thinking about issues or societal problems, such as immigration, inequality, race or religious conflict.80

Serious game designers “utilize strategizing, hypothesis testing or problem solving, usually with higher order thinking rather than rote memorization or simple comprehension,” said Kathy Sanford, a professor of language and literacy at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. “Characteristics of such games include a system of rewards and goals to motivate players, a narrative context that situates activity and establishes rules of engagement, learning content that is relevant to the narrative plot and interactive cues that prompt learning and provide feedback,” she said.81

The U.S. military was among the first to develop and use computer games for serious purposes. A Johns Hopkins University research center created the first computer war game, “Hutspiel,” for the military in 1955. It allowed players to test the impact of nuclear weapons in a simulated battle between NATO and the Soviet Union.82

More war games were created throughout the 1960s. By the '70s, as the video game industry was expanding, the serious games industry also began to expand. Even inventor Baer included some educational games with the Magnavox Odyssey.83

Many consider “The Oregon Trail,” released in 1971, the first serious game for education. Developed by three history teachers in Minnesota, it was initially text-only and played on a teletype machine.84 Players are pioneers who attempt to follow the Oregon Trail from Independence, Mo., to Oregon's Willamette Valley in 1848. The Minnesota Educational Computer Consortium eventually distributed it nationally, starting in 1978, and released a commercial version in 1985.85

While conceived to teach geography and history, the game became a big commercial success, selling 65 million copies.86

In 1986, the Learning Co. released “Reader Rabbit,” the first educational game for young children. It was designed for a new IBM computer for home use, the PCJr.

Three years later, independent game developer Will Wright introduced “SimCity,” a popular game in which the player must develop a city while maintaining his constituents' happiness and a budget. Wright's next game, “The Sims,” in which a player creates virtual people and essentially directs their lives, became one of the biggest-selling video games of all time. In 2014 the fourth edition of “The Sims” was the top-selling computer game in the United States, the third edition was No. 2 and various other versions occupied slots in the top 20.87

“The Sims” was released at the cusp of a major change in the serious games market. The turn of the millennium was “a demarcation point,” says Ben Sawyer, a game developer who co-founded the Serious Games Initiative in 2002 at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a congressionally chartered policy forum. The initiative aimed to encourage the development of games to address policy and management issues.

Sawyer says the pace of development quickened around 2000, as many elements converged, including the ability to make three-dimensional games and greater interest from the government, the military and other public and private-sector funders.

From 2002 to 2010, 1,265 games were released worldwide, compared with 953 during the 22-year period from 1980 to 2002. Educational games were the largest segment (66 percent) early on, but recently have dropped to about 26 percent, as advertising-related serious games expanded, along with health games and others.88

Still, the serious game market grew slowly compared to the explosion in recreational gaming. In 2004, for instance, the first meeting of Games for Change, a gathering of serious games enthusiasts, attracted only 35 people. By 2012, more than 800 people attended, and 11,000 watched the webcast, but those numbers pale in comparison to the tens of thousands who attend recreational industry conventions.89

Serious game development has been hampered by its economic model, said Damien Djaouti, an associate teacher of computer science at the University of Montpellier, in France.90 In the past, serious games makers tried to retail them like a recreational game. While that may have worked for big titles such as “The Sims,” it was unsuccessful for most serious games.

Now, serious games can be tailored for a particular client who will pay the studio for the work. Or corporations and schools can buy games for a flat or per-user fee, meaning developers don't have to depend on the vagaries of the retail market.

This new model “is likely to enable the current wave of ‘Serious Games’ to last longer and embrace more public recognition than their ancestors,” said Djaouti.

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Current Situation

Going Mobile

Video games increasingly are migrating to mobile devices such as tablets, smartphones and the iPod Touch, and in the process are being woven into the fabric of everyday life.

Mobile gamers play more often than console or computer players and for longer periods of time, according to the Port Washington, N.Y.,-based NPD Group, a market research company.91

And children increasingly preferred using their mobile devices for gaming in 2015 instead of their home computers, NPD found.92

As worldwide video game sales hit a record high in 2015, mobile game sales outstripped console game sales — but not PC game sales. Mobile device game revenues were about $26 billion, compared with $32 billion for PC games. Console games had the smallest revenues, at $4 billion. The top-selling PC game was “League of Legends,” at $1.6 billion, while the mobile best-seller was “Clash of Clans,” with $1.3 billion.93

Members of the “Evil Genius” team appear onscreen during the live taping of the “League of Legends” (AFP/Getty Images/Robyn Beck)  
Members of the “Evil Genius” team appear onscreen during the live taping of the “League of Legends” North American Championship Series competition in Manhattan Beach, Calif., on Feb. 22, 2014. “League,” one of the world's most popular massively multiplayer online games, offers cash prizes. MMOs allow huge numbers of people to compete against each other, no matter where they live or what language they speak. (AFP/Getty Images/Robyn Beck)

Mobile gaming is expected to keep closing in on PC game sales, capturing almost a third of the $113 billion projected worldwide market by 2018, according to market data firm Newzoo.94 And while mobile devices are starting to make a mark in the classroom, computers still account for almost three-quarters of the devices used at school.95

Students are itching to use smartphones and tablets in the classroom. Seventy-one percent of elementary school students, 67 percent of middle school students and 56 percent of high school students said they wanted to use mobile devices more often in the classroom. Elementary school kids were using tablets as much or more than laptops in class, with two-thirds reporting regular use. Middle and high school students said tablets made learning more fun and allowed them learn in the way that's best for them.96

“Tablets and smartphones represent the pinnacle in learning tools — they're mobile, user-friendly, versatile, relatively affordable and Internet-connected,” said Jeff Herb, an educator and blogger at Instructional Tech Talk, a website. “These devices bring the world to students' fingertips, literally and figuratively, and thanks to their intuitive and tactile interfaces, all but demand students to engage with them actively, rather than passively.”97

Digital media that is actively consumed can have positive benefits, said Hill of the American Association of Pediatricians. Although the organization worries about growing screen exposure, it will not make any recommendations about classroom use, Hill says.

Game Changers

The long-standing problem of student engagement has become more pressing as American students continue to lose ground to peers in other nations, especially in science, technology, engineering and math.

Only 60 percent of middle school students and 40 percent of high school students said they feel engaged in school or work, according to the New York-based Institute of Play, an organization devoted to bringing game-based curricula to schools.98 At the same time, U.S. students are scoring higher than they were previously on national math assessments than in the 1990s but still rank “around the middle of the pack in international comparisons and behind many other advanced industrial nations,” said the Pew Research Center.99

To address those failures, the National Academy of Sciences issued “Next Generation Science Standards” in 2011 that called for a shift away from memorization of facts, to student-led investigations and in-depth examination of core ideas.100 Some think video games could be used to achieve those standards. Daniel Greenberg, president of the Washington-based game development studio MediaRez, said the play can be designed to approximate the scientific method, in which players confront something new, observe responses, form hypotheses, test them, validate and revise their responses and repeat the process.101

Philanthropists, investors and educators are changing their perspective on video games, says MIT's Osterweil. “There's a recognition that games are about real competencies; they're not just about factual knowledge,” says Osterweil, who is also president of the Learning Games Network, an MIT spin-off that builds educational games and consults with teachers.

One network project — Playful Learning — is working “to break down some of the barriers to adoption of game-based learning in classrooms,” says Peter Stidwill, a Learning Network Games executive producer. Sponsored initially by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Playful Learning held national and regional workshops in 2014 and 2015 that brought together 2,500 teachers with game developers and gaming experts.

The Institute of Play is pioneering a game-centric curriculum at public charter schools, including New York's Quest to Learn, which opened in 2009. For instance, sixth- and seventh-grade science students there use the video game “Dr. Smallz” to explore cellular biology and the human body. Ninth-graders use role-playing games and “Minecraft” to design dinosaur habitats.102

Standardized tests have shown the approach works: The New York Quest students performed 56 percent better than the citywide average on English language arts exams in 2013 and 43 percent better on science exams.103

The MacArthur Foundation, which funds the Quest schools, is spending $25 million to create video games for learning and other ways to engage students.104 Meanwhile, the federal government is investing in games for learning. And the Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology helped sponsor the 6th Annual Games and Learning Summit in 2015, bringing educators and developers together at the video game industry's annual convention, called E3.105

The Education Department and the White House sponsored a “game jam” — a brainstorming session with developers and teachers — in Austin, Texas, in 2015, after holding one a year earlier at the White House.106

“The conversation has shifted from whether technology should be used in learning to how it can improve learning to ensure that all students have access to high-quality educational experiences,” the Education Department said in its 2016 National Education Technology Plan, which highlighted the increasing use of digital games in class.107

However, Lee Banville, editorial director of the Games and Learning Publishing Council, questioned whether the department's interest in digital learning will continue, since Richard Culatta, the director of education technology and one of the department's primary backers of diversity in digital learning, left the government in late 2015.108

Policy Challenges

With evidence that video games can enhance learning — and may alter behavior, for good or bad — some question what promotional or oversight role the government and scientific and medical organizations should play.

Many games claim to enhance brain health or cognitive function, but currently “there is no standard of scientific validity for efficacy claims for such products,” said Shawn Green, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is best positioned to evaluate the claims, but because it sees no safety risk, it has said it sees no reason to regulate.109

Thus, there is no pressure for the industry to conduct scientific studies, said Green. The FDA could take a proactive role by helping to create standards for evaluating the mental health, neuroscience and other effects of video games, he said.110

The American Academy of Pediatrics also is trying to sort out the data on video games, particularly how they might affect children under age 2, says the academy's Hill. The group recommended in 2013 that children be limited to less than two hours of screen time per day and that children under 2 have no exposure to screen media.111

But Hill says the academy realizes that patterns of media use and research on health effects are changing rapidly. In November, the organization plans to publish a comprehensive review and policy statement on media use and child health and development, he says.

Others worry that video games — especially if they are a key to learning success — may not be available to all students. The education company Pearson found in 2014 that only 16 percent of fourth- through 12th-graders attended schools with a laptop or tablet for every student. A third of students had access through a computer lab and a third through shared, in-class computers.112

Teachers say the main barriers to video game use are the cost of games, limited time outside of the required curriculum and lack of computers, devices and Internet access.113

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Here to Stay

Video games will become a much larger element of education going forward, especially as gaming becomes even more sophisticated through virtual reality and artificial intelligence, say academics and educators.

Virtual reality is expected to make a huge splash in gaming in 2016, thanks to companies like Oculus Rift (owned by Facebook), Sony, HTC and Samsung, which are introducing consumer headsets that will allow players to interact with the world on screen.114 And Microsoft is introducing a version of top-selling “Minecraft” to run on virtual reality headsets, such as its new HoloLens.115

Virtual reality will ratchet up the intensity of experiential learning, says author Kowert. “You'll be able to walk in and feel like you're in ancient Greece,” she says.

“If the changes that have occurred over the last century are anything to go by, … gaming in 2025 will be almost unrecognizable to how it is today,” said tech writer Riad Chikhani.116

That brave new world aside, more mundane issues remain unresolved, such as which games teach best, how they teach, how players can receive all the benefits without the harms and how games can be made available to all.

“While the concept of learning from games is not debatable, the way we will get there continues to be an on-going conundrum,” said Michigan State's Sherry.117

“Games as a major part of our culture are here to stay,” says MIT's Osterweil. But it's less clear how they will fit into education in the next decade, especially if “teaching to the test” remains the dominant form of pedagogy, he says. If that's the case, “games will remain as a niche,” he says.

But that's the most pessimistic outcome, he says. “There's growing recognition that school's about something other than cramming content,” Osterweil says. If that pendulum shift continues, games will be an integral part of experiential learning, he says. And “if teachers and parents begin to demand more playful learning, it will change faster.”

Linn of UC Berkeley believes that education innovations — driven in part by games — could happen faster. And, having spent a lot of time in underprivileged classrooms in the San Francisco Bay area, she believes more must be done to ensure all students are included.

“At the rate we're going, people are really going to have to think about every kid having a computer so they can take advantage of these tools,” Linn says.

But Mayer, of UC Santa Barbara, sees a slower transformation. “Education is very resistant to technology,” he says. “I don't think there's going to be this huge revolution where schools are going to be completely overthrown and [become] places where learning is just based on games,” he says.

At best, games — through artificial intelligence and virtual reality — could approach the efficiency and power of face-to-face interactions, says pediatrician Hill. At worst, digital media might be creating a generation of children with “a deficit of interpersonal interaction” who end up lacking self-control or self-reliance skills, he says.

Most likely, it will be a mix, he says, especially if parents continue to monitor media consumption.

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Does video gaming have a gender gap?


Rabindra Ratan
Assistant Professor, Department of Media and Information, Michigan State University. Written for CQ Researcher, February 2016

The statistic that nearly half of gamers are female is dangerously misleading. It ignores significant gender differences in game genre preferences and veils a gender gap that detracts from equal participation within and beyond gaming writ large. Recent research shows the multiple consequences of this gap. Women and girls are more likely to be harassed by other players and perceived as uninterested and low-skilled. Female characters are less visible in games (especially as protagonists) and often are hypersexualized. Possibly contributing to this is a gender gap in the industry, with a significantly smaller proportion of women employed in game-development than men.

These gaps are not caused by inherent sex differences. For example, studies have shown that boys have better spatial or mental rotation skills — the capacity to orient two- or three-dimensional objects in the mind — than girls. However, researchers also have found that those initial skill differences are neutralized after a short amount of action gameplay. Similarly, studies have found that men are no better than women at playing certain games (such as “EVE Online” and “EverQuest II”) when controlling for total time played.

So why are women often relegated to the “girlfriend gamer” stereotype, playing support roles and healing their boyfriends instead of reaping the benefits of gameplay? The answer lies in a vicious stereotype-driven cycle.

Research has shown that exposure to gender stereotypes in gaming reduces women's self-confidence and ratings of their own skills. It also increases self-objectification, aggressive thoughts and acceptance of the rape myth. In my own recent study, women who believed they were playing against a man as opposed to a woman (the actual opponent was a bot) not only performed worse in a first-person shooter game but also rated men as better suited for careers in computer science, technology, engineering and math.

This leads to two conclusions. First, the stereotype that women and girls are not true gamers prevents them from participating equally in video games, hindering their ability to combat the stereotype. Second, the gender gap in games leads to gender inequality in technological fields. Recognizing this, we should encourage our daughters, sisters and mothers to play more video games and we should demand that our sons, brothers and fathers not act cruelly or lecherously to the females they meet in gaming spaces.


Kishonna Gray
Director, Critical Gaming Lab and Assistant Professor, School of Justice Studies, Eastern Kentucky University. Written for CQ Researcher, February 2016

A gender gap does not exist in gaming. According to the Pew Research Center, women and men play video games at about the same rate. Fifty percent of men and 48 percent of women say they play video games on a console, personal computer or handheld device. This directly counters what 60 percent of Americans told Pew: that men play video games more. Even women who play video games had that belief.

Partly because game company marketing pushed a very masculine product with masculine advertising, the constructed identity of a gamer was long associated with men and boys. When more women began playing games, the narrative began to shift, redefining what it meant to be a gamer.

Even so, when women are viewed as part of gaming culture, they are assumed to be interested in the “casual” gaming market — games that are simpler and easy to learn — while men are assumed to favor immersive, violent games. Games such as “Candy Crush” and “Just Dance” have been cited as casual games popular among women. Additionally, many gamers suggest that women are not hardcore gamers, leading to further divides along gender lines. But one should ask: Why don't women play hardcore games at higher rates compared to the casual ones. The answer may point to a different kind of gap in gaming.

While there is no numerical gender gap in gaming, an inclusivity gap does exist, in which the presence of women in games, gaming communities and gaming culture in general sometimes leads to disparate treatment. As researchers have long noted, women gamers experience hostile environments.

Much of the recent debate around the reality of women in gaming emerged with the “Gamergate” controversy, in which several women in the industry were subjected to prolonged harassment from men. It started as a conversation about ethics in game journalism but ended with a largely male gaming community marginalizing women who spoke out about their antagonistic treatment.

While public perception may not view women as gamers, numbers reveal the truth. Women are playing and have been playing all along. We need to move beyond these simple constructions and improve marketing, advertising and representations of women in games; increase the numbers of women in game development; ensure inclusive gaming environments and increase the value of women within gaming.

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1940s–1960sVideo games, home-gaming console invented.
1940Computer that plays the mathematical strategy game “Nim” is shown at New York World's Fair.
1958American nuclear scientist William A. Higinbotham builds “Tennis for Two” computer video game.
1961MIT hackers create “Spacewar!” rocket-ship game.
1967American Engineer Ralph H. Baer invents the Brown Box, a system that plays video games on a TV.
1970sArcade video games, home-video consoles, educational video games and Apple computers debut.
1971Three teachers unveil “The Oregon Trail” educational video game.
1972Magnavox sells the Brown Box, renamed the Odyssey, as the first consumer video game console.
1977Atari 2600 console brings gaming to TV sets…. Apple II home computer introduced and becomes a popular game-development platform.
1979The wildly popular Japanese arcade game “Space Invaders” achieves U.S. success.
1980sVideo games blossom after setback.
1980Japan's “Pac-Man” comes to U.S. arcades and becomes a cultural icon, inspiring the chart-topping single “Pac-Man Fever.”
1981Nintendo's “Donkey Kong” appears in arcades.
1982U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop says children can become addicted to video games.
1983Video game market bottoms out.
1987“Legend of Zelda,” based on role-playing board game “Dungeons and Dragons,” introduced in United States.
1988“Madden NFL” football debuts.
1989Nintendo starts selling first hand-held game player, Game Boy…. Role-playing educational game “SimCity” debuts.
1990sAction games, violent content, multiplayer and online games become popular.
1992“Mortal Kombat” unveiled, drawing criticism for graphic violence.
1993U.S. Senate hearings on video game violence lead to creation of a voluntary rating system…. “Doom” popularizes first-person shooter games.
1995Sony launches PlayStation.
1997“Grand Theft Auto” debuts.
2000–PresentConcerns about game violence and addiction grow.
2000“The Sims” debuts, becoming the highest-selling computer game ever and the most popular with women.
2002Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars creates Serious Games Initiative to encourage use of game-based simulations for policymaking.
2004Robert Wood Johnson Foundation starts “Games for Health Project.”
2009Swedish programmer Markus Persson unveils “Minecraft.” … “Angry Birds” released for Apple smartphones and tablets.
2011U.S. Supreme Court rules that games are constitutionally protected speech.
2013American Psychiatric Association calls for further study of gaming addiction.
2015Pew Research Center estimates half of video game players are women…. Mobile game sales outpace console game revenues.
2016Lumos Games pays $2 million fine for unsubstantiated claims about brain-training games.

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Short Features

Students “love it because they can do anything they want with it.”

At its simplest, “Minecraft” is a video game that presents a virtual world where, in the “survival” mode of play, players use robot-like arms to build houses and furnishings out of Lego-like blocks, gather food, trade with others or dig for minerals.

But the game is rarely played simply or in isolation. Often, two, three or more players work together to create virtual cities, compose music, write laws or devise novel ways to escape monsters. What's more, they frequently modify the game's code to make “Minecraft” whatever they want it to be.

“Minecraft” has no rules and no stated objectives. It appeals to players of all ages: More than 60 percent of players are 15 to 30, 15 percent are over 30 and 20 percent are under 15, according to the game maker.1 But it is especially popular with children because of its free-form ways.

Increasingly, teachers are using “Minecraft,” but not all schools are interested, and some have blocked its use in the classroom because they don't believe in its value as an educational tool, says Joel Levin, a former New York teacher who co-founded the company that created “MinecraftEdu,” the game's classroom version, used in more than 7,000 classrooms in 40 countries.

“The reason [students] love it so much is because they can do anything they want with it, and they can do it with their friends,” says Marianne Malmstrom, a teacher who began using the game when she taught at a New Jersey private school and who will be using it in a new position in New Zealand teaching fifth- and sixth-graders.

Plenty of people have tried to pinpoint the game's popularity, but “I don't know anybody that has nailed it,” says Levin. He says one of its draws — aside from its limitless play — is its broad appeal to all gamers, not just boys or those interested only in action or strategy games.

When one mom asked her son why he enjoys “Minecraft” so much, he said he finds it relaxing because he can get in the “Minecraft” zone after a long school day filled with rules and fabricated competitions.2

“Minecraft” has become one of the biggest video game franchises, selling an estimated 22 million copies for computers since 2009. It's also available on Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox; the game sold 4 million copies for the latter in the first five months it was available for Xbox in 2012. Mobile apps, “Minecraft” books and “Minecraft” Legos round out the game's sales market.3

Markus Persson, an unemployed Swedish game designer, created “Minecraft” in 2009. He earned an estimated $100 million from the game in 2012 alone, even though he had turned over the creative reins to a colleague in 2011.4 The game took off in 2011, finding a wider audience. The booming business caught the attention of Microsoft, which in 2014 paid $2.5 billion for Persson's company, Mojang.5

The “Minecraft” obsession keeps growing. The first ever “Minecon” — a “Minecraft” convention — was held in 2010, and some 10,000 fans gathered in London in 2015 for what one writer called “the Minecraft equivalent of Disney World and Comic-Con.”6 A “Minecraft” full-length feature film is also in the works.7

In January, Microsoft acquired “MinecraftEdu” for an undisclosed amount.8 “By creating a virtual world and then advancing in it, students can learn digital citizenship, empathy, social skills and even improve their literacy — while getting real-time feedback on their problem-solving skills from the teacher,” said Microsoft Vice President Anthony Salcito, in explaining why the software maker purchased the game.

The Microsoft acquisition is “a validation,” in that “one of the biggest, most successful companies in the world believes games have a place in education,” says Levin. It also may be a way to shut down the competition. Microsoft plans to start its own classroom version of “Minecraft” in 2016, although “MinecraftEdu” will continue to be available in the near-term, Levin says.

Levin was an early adopter in 2011, but even then, he says, he could not foresee all the game's possibilities. Levin did not tie “Minecraft” to any particular lesson, but rather viewed it as “this open-ended world where you can have your kids do anything: rebuild the Roman Coliseum, role-play Native American life or design science experiments.”

Educators cannot directly assess what students learn from “Minecraft,” which is a problem for those who must focus on preparing for standardized tests, says Levin. “The more progressive and less rigid a school is, the better ‘Minecraft’ fits in,” he says, adding, “There's no question in my mind that a kid can demonstrate their knowledge about a subject using ‘Minecraft’ as an expression.”

Malmstrom says that when she saw her New Jersey students start playing “Minecraft,” she rejected it. But, at her students' request, she relented. The first time she saw a group of boys negotiating with each other over rule-setting, she knew “Minecraft” was going to be an entirely new way of engaging students.

Malmstrom created many varieties of learning with “Minecraft.” For instance, for a lesson about the language of persuasion and another on building in three dimensions, she had her fifth-graders build a house and create a video ad for the property. She used the game to help prod discussions on wants, needs and luxuries, and on what might be good selling points.

In four years of using “Minecraft,” Malmstrom found that the only limit to what students wanted to learn “was their own curiosity,” she says. And it has taught her something about learning that has changed her approach to the classroom: “We can become co-learners with the kids and design the learning together.”

— Alicia Ault

[1] “Minecraft Player Demographics,” Minecraft Seeds blog, APC Technology Group, undated, accessed Feb. 4, 2016,

[2] Melissa Maypole, “Minecraft Explained from a Mom Who Gets It (Finally!)”, HuffPost Parents blog, The Huffington Post, Dec. 20, 2014,

[3] “Who made this thing?” , undated, accessed Feb. 4, 2016,

[4] Simon Parkin, “The Creator,” The New Yorker, April 5, 2013,

[5] Issie Lapowsky, “Minecraft Creator Explains Controversial Sale to Microsoft,” , Sept. 15, 2014,

[6] Minecon wiki,; Nick Summers, “This is Minecon: the biggest ‘Minecraft’ fan convention,” Engadget, July 17, 2015,

[7] “We've chosen a director for the Minecraft movie!” , July 21, 2015,

[8] Anthony Salcito, “Microsoft invests in new and expanded version of ‘Minecraft’ for the classroom,” Official Microsoft Blog, Jan. 19, 2016,

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But the market “is still more about what it could be than what it is.”

A stroke survivor, his weakened arm strapped into a robotic sling, struggles to control an animated dolphin in a virtual undersea world. He moves his arm — assisted by the sling — and, in turn, the dolphin rises or dives.

The goal is to evade sharks while capturing fish to eat. The game prompts the patient to move faster as playing time increases. Immersed, the patient loses track of the fact that he's receiving therapy. The game — “Bandit's Shark Showdown” — was developed by a neuroscientist and a team of artists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The Hopkins team hopes the game will be more effective in restoring movement than traditional rehabilitation — especially if patients start playing shortly after a stroke. Clinical trials are just starting.

This type of game is what a handful of developers and scientists envisioned when they began meeting in 2002 to brainstorm about how video games could help improve health. While some health games are close to proving themselves commercially viable and scientifically beneficial, the sector has struggled to attract the kind of investment and development money that has poured into games for entertainment.

“The market is still more about what it could be than what it is,” says Ben Sawyer, co-founder of the nonprofit Games for Health Project and president of Digitalmill, a Portland, Maine, game developer. The project, founded in 2014 and funded by the health-focused Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is encouraging the creation of games that lie in the sweet spot where popularity overlaps with a health goal, such as keeping a diabetic's blood sugar in check.

Such games would tap into the popularity of health apps and fitness monitors that have Americans monitoring their heart rates, totaling their daily steps and counting calories. Another popular type of health-related video game, known as an exergame, has been popular since Nintendo introduced its Wii console in 2006. Wii games let users “play” sports such as bowling, golf and tennis. Nintendo has sold more than 100 million of the $250 consoles.9 The Wii game “Just Dance” was the 18th-biggest selling console game in 2014.10

An elderly woman competes in a Wii bowling tournament (AFP/Getty Images/Guillaume Souvant)  
An elderly woman competes in a Wii bowling tournament in Poitiers, France. Exergames are a popular form of health-related video gaming and allow players to “play” golf, tennis and other sports. (AFP/Getty Images/Guillaume Souvant)

The enormous popularity of exergames spurred researchers to study their potential to improve health. For instance, researchers looked at whether exergames could be used to monitor how much someone exercises, help people with cerebral palsy, motivate the sedentary, combat depression or improve balance in the elderly. So far, the games have been found to be effective at motivation and improving balance, according to studies.

Health Games Research, based at the University of California, Santa Barbara and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is trying to help health game makers prove that their products improve outcomes.

After reporting success in a small clinical study, Boston-based Akili Interactive Labs said it will soon start a bigger trial of “Project: EVO,” a game to manage attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition that makes it difficult to focus attention and control impulses.11 Akili, a publicly traded company that has game developers working with neuroscientists, wants Food and Drug Administration approval so doctors can prescribe the game and have it covered by insurance. The company also hopes the game will eventually replace ADHD medications.12

ADHD presents a challenge for game designers. Some studies have shown that video games worsen the disorder by creating more distractions while others found that gameplay “improved sustained attention and reduced impulsivity,” said Cheryl K. Olson, an independent researcher and former co-director of Harvard Medical School's Center for Mental Health and Media.13

Researchers say the game Re-Mission — designed by the nonprofit Redwood City, Calif.-based HopeLab to help children cope with cancer — has proven its value. In the game, a doctor character gives the Re-Mission player — a patient — a detailed cancer-killing mission. The patient enlists a miniaturized robot to harness the power of good cells and of chemotherapy to destroy tumors. A 2008 study showed that teens and young adults with cancer who played Re-Mission had higher concentrations of chemotherapy in their blood, giving them a better chance at remission.14 They also followed antibiotic and other regimens more closely than teens who played a conventional video game and were more confident about their treatment.15

Game development can cost millions of dollars, and scientific study can run into the tens of millions. If health games are going to succeed, Sawyer says, they need to appeal to healthy audiences and address multiple issues at once, such as a cooking game that also educates players about heart disease.16

“Bandit's Shark Showdown” may fit that model. It is being marketed to healthy consumers as a smartphone app and studied for stroke rehabilitation.17

Sawyer sees opportunity for health games in promoting cognitive health and health literacy, improving knowledge of nutrition, vaccines and infectious disease, managing stress, educating about first aid and navigating health care finances.

Some in the health care industry also see opportunities. Millions of Americans who play video games have chronic health issues, said Willis Gee, director of information technology strategy and innovation at health insurer Cigna. Paying people to play games — where they might exercise more or manage a disease more closely — could ultimately reduce health costs, he said.

“People want to do things that are fun,” said Gee. “So, we have to be there with them.”18

— Alicia Ault

[9] “Video game consoles lifetime unit sales worldwide as of 2015,” Statista,

[10] “2015 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry,” Entertainment Software Association,

[11] “Pilot Study Results Demonstrate Akili's Mobile Digital Intervention Improved Attention and Working Memory in Pediatric Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,” press release, Akili Interactive Labs, Oct. 28, 2015,

[12] Katherine Ellison, “Video Game Is Built to Be Prescribed to Children with A.D.H.D.,” Well blog, The New York Times, Nov. 23, 2015,

[13] Rachel Kowert and Thorsten Quandt, The Video Game Debate; Unraveling the Physical, Social, and Psychological Effects of Digital Games (2016), p. 42.

[14] Pamela Kato et al., “A Video Game Improves Behavioral Outcomes in Adolescents and Young Adults With Cancer: A Randomized Trial,” Pediatrics, August 2008, pp. e305–17,

[15] “Our Research: Re-Mission Outcomes Study,” HopeLab, undated,

[16] Ben Sawyer, “Health Games for Everyone!” Medium, Jan. 13, 2016,

[17] Karen Russell, “Helping Hand,” The New Yorker, Nov. 23, 2015,

[18] April Dembosky, “Play This Video Game And Call Me In The Morning,” NPR Shots blog, Aug. 17, 2015,

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Bissell, Tom , Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter , Pantheon, 2010. A journalist and confessed video-game addict explains why he considers games a new and important art form.

Gee, James Paul , What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy , Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. In one of the first books on the subject, a literary scholar and game enthusiast discusses why video games are a learning tool.

Kowert, Rachel, and Thorsten Quandt, eds., The Video Game Debate; Unraveling the Physical, Social, and Psychological Effects of Digital Games , Routledge, 2016. Multiple scholars address concerns about games, including violence, addiction and whether games can educate or improve health.

Toppo, Greg , The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter , Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. A USA Today education reporter analyzes — with numerous anecdotes — the role of video games in schools.


Chikhani, Riad , “The History of Gaming: An Evolving Community,” TechCrunch, Oct. 31, 2015, A writer for a technology website provides a brief history of video games.

Djaouti, Damien, et al., “Origins of Serious Games,” in Serious Games and Edutainment Applications , Springer London, Oct. 13, 2011, A computer science researcher outlines the evolution of serious games.

Harwell, Drew , “More women play video games than boys, and other surprising facts lost in the mess of Gamergate,” The Washington Post, Oct. 17, 2014, A journalist chronicles several recent studies on female participation in gaming.

Shaw, Adrienne , “Not all players are gamers, but why?” Culture Digitally, Dec. 18, 2015, A renowned scholar on diversity in gaming examines the assumptions tied to the word “gamer.”

Reports and Studies

“2015 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry,” Entertainment Software Association, April 2015, The trade association's annual report gives statistics on who engages in gaming, how often, what kinds of games they play and how much they spend on that form of entertainment.

“Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium,” American Academy of Pediatrics, Oct., 1, 2015, The organization of 64,000 pediatricians summarizes expert testimony that will form the basis of the group's recommendations on children and digital media, to be released this year.

Duggan, Maeve , “Gaming and Gamers,” Pew Research Center, Dec. 15, 2015, The nonpartisan research and polling center provides a snapshot of who is playing games and how often, as well as Americans' perceptions of games and gamers.

Green, C. Shawn, and Aaron R. Seitz , “The Impacts of Video Games on Cognition and How the Government Can Guide the Industry,” Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, October 2015, The authors summarize studies on the positive and negative effects of video games on learning and behavior, as well as the potential role of government in regulating and monitoring games.

Takeuchi, Lori M., and Sarah Vaala , “Level-Up Learning, A National Survey on Teaching with Digital Games,” Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, 2014, The authors present a detailed survey on how teachers are using video and other digital games in classrooms.

Films and Television

“Minecraft: The Story of Mojang,” 2 Player Productions, 2012, The documentary film focuses on a year in the life of the company that created Minecraft.

“Roblox: User-Generated Video Games Now on Xbox One,”, Feb. 2, 2016, The CEO of a gaming technology company discusses in an interview for the “Bloomberg West” TV show how future gaming content will be created.

“Video Games, The Movie,” Mediajuice Studios, 2014, The documentary, produced by American actor Zach Braff, chronicles the rise of video games from a niche to a multibillion-dollar industry.

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The Next Step


Gage, Deborah , “Spanning Continents, PlayVox Picks Up $1.5M to Gamify Call Centers,” The Wall Street Journal, March 30, 2015, A U.S. software company received $1.5 million from an investor to “gamify” Colombian customer service call centers by providing software that can track workers' performance, rank them and award prizes for achieving goals.

Matney, Lucas , “QuizUp Looks To Gamify Corporate Learning With QuizUp At Work,” TechCrunch, Aug. 21, 2015, The popular mobile trivia game “QuizUp” began a new workplace-geared edition that allows firms to test employees' knowledge of products, policies and other company information.

Rossi, Ben , “Can gamification save the disengaged workforce?” Information Age, Dec. 9, 2015, More companies are offering rewards to employees for good performance as well as virtual training through video games, among other options, to make them more engaged and to boost workplace productivity.

Gender Issues

Kelleher, Susan , “‘This has got to change’: Women game developers fight sexism in industry,” The Seattle Times, Aug. 14, 2015, The so-called Gamergate controversy, in which several female video game developers in 2014 were threatened and harassed by anonymous gamers, led several well-known game companies to make their firms' workplace cultures more inclusive to women.

Logan, Megan , “FIFA Videogames Will Finally Feature Women's Teams,” Wired, May 29, 2015, American video game developer Electronic Arts added national women's soccer teams from 12 countries to its “FIFA 2016” after fans lobbied over several years for the inclusion of female players in the game franchise.

Takahashi, Dean , “Zoe Quinn and other female game developers speak out against harassment,” VentureBeat, March 4, 2015, Four female game developers, including Gamergate harassment victim Zoe Quinn, hosted a panel discussion at a gaming conference in San Francisco where they addressed online harassment of female game developers.

Harmful Effects

Bresnahan, Samantha, and Will Worley, “When video games become an addiction,” CNN, Jan. 6, 2016, Widespread global access to technology has allowed so-called internet gaming disorder, a condition described as addiction to online video games, to spread in many countries, according to a psychology professor at Iowa State University.

Kleinman, Zoe , “Do video games make people violent?” BBC, Aug. 17, 2015, About 230 academics signed a letter to the American Psychological Association criticizing the group for publishing research that concluded violent video games contribute to aggressive behavior, citing concerns that the study was not peer-reviewed.

Student Engagement

Coldewey, Devin , “Microsoft Announces Classroom-Focused ‘Minecraft: Education Edition,’” NBC News, Jan. 19, 2016, Microsoft plans to release a student version of the world-building game “Minecraft” that will include lesson plans and tools for teachers and serve as a “creative playground” for students.

Mendoza, Jessica , “Minecraft in school? How video games could be the future of learning,” The Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 2015, Video games can help students understand complex systems rather than simply memorize material, according to several Australian-based researchers, but limited funding and negative public perceptions pose obstacles to integrating game-based learning in classrooms.

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Common Sense Media
650 Townsend St., Suite 435, San Francisco, CA 94103
Nonprofit organization that helps families make choices about media through a blog, surveys and ratings of movies, games, apps, TV shows, websites, books and music.

Entertainment Software Association
575 Seventh St., N.W., Suite 300, Washington, DC 20004
Trade industry association that advocates for policies on behalf of the video and computer game industry and tracks legal and policy issues of interest to game companies.
Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, 1900 Broadway, New York, NY 10023
Internet-based clearinghouse that tracks news and information about educational games designed for children and young adults.

Games for Health Project
P.O. Box 17575, Portland, ME 04101
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded project that maintains a database of games in development and sponsors an annual conference in conjunction with the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society.

NPD Group Inc.
900 West Shore Road., Port Washington, NY 11050
Market research company that tabulates sales statistics and trends on which computer and video games are popular and on the uses of other media.

Pew Research Center
1615 L St., N.W., Suite 800, Washington, DC 20036
Nonpartisan research and public opinion polling organization whose Internet, Science and Technology division focuses on digital trends.

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Educational Technology, Games for Learning, 400 Maryland Ave., S.W., Washington, DC 20202
Information source for the federal education agency's efforts to encourage and publicize academic research on educational games.

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[1] “Gamification: Experts expect ‘game layers’ to expand in the future with positive and negative results,” Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2012, p. 2,

[2] Lori M. Takeuchi and Sarah Vaala, “Level-Up Learning, A National Survey on Teaching with Digital Games,” The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, 2014,

[3] “Worldwide digital games market: 2015 total,” press release, SuperData Research, Jan. 26, 2016,

[4] “More Than 150 Million Americans Play Video Games,” press release, Entertainment Software Association, April 14, 2015,

[5] Maeve Duggan, “Gaming and Gamers,” Pew Research Center, Dec. 15, 2015,

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jessica Sanders, “By the Numbers: 10 Stats on the Growth of Gamification,” Gamesand, April 27, 2015,

[8] Rachel Kowert and Thorsten Quandt, eds., The Video Game Debate; Unraveling the Physical, Social, and Psychological Effects of Digital Games (2016), p. 176.

[9] “About the National Science Foundation,” National Science Foundation, Also see list of grantees,

[10] “President Obama on Education at TechBoston,” White House, March 8, 2011,

[11] Greg Toppo, The Game Believes in You (2015), p. 7.

[12] “Gamification: Experts expect ‘game layers’ to expand in the future with positive and negative results,” op. cit., p. 22.

[13] “Landmark Report: U.S. Teens Use an Average of Nine Hours of Media Per Day, Tweens Use Six Hours,” press release, Common Sense Media, Nov. 3, 2015,

[14] “Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium,” American Academy of Pediatrics, Oct., 1, 2015, p. 6,

[15] For background, see Kathy Koch, “The Digital Divide,” CQ Researcher, Jan. 28, 2000, pp. 41–64.

[16] Caitlyn Dewey, “The only guide to Gamergate you will ever need to read,” The Washington Post, Oct. 14, 2014,

[17] James Paul Gee, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2007), pp. 216–217.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Douglas B. Clark et al., “Digital Games Design and Learning: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” SRI International, March 2014, p. 14,

[20] Ibid., p. 14.

[21] Isabela Granic et al., “The Benefits of Playing Video Games,” American Psychologist, January 2014, pp. 66–78,

[22] Linda Polin et al., “Games and Virtual Worlds,” The Center for Innovative Research in Cyber Learning, undated,

[23] Kowert and Quandt, op. cit., p. 118.

[24] Richard E. Mayer, “What Should Be the Role of Computer Games in Education?” Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Jan. 12, 2016,

[25] “A Consensus on the Brain Training Industry from the Scientific Community,” blog post, Stanford Center on Longevity, Oct. 20, 2014,

[26] “Scientists to Stanford: Research Shows Brain Exercises Can Work,” press release, Cognitive Training Data, Dec. 17, 2014,

[27] “Lumosity to Pay $2 Million to Settle FTC Deceptive Advertising Charges for Its ‘Brain Training’ Program,” press release, Federal Trade Commission, Jan. 5, 2016,

[28] Kowert and Quandt, op. cit., p. 176.

[29] “ESRB Ratings Guide,” Entertainment Software Rating Board, undated,

[30] “Legal Issues,” Entertainment Software Association, undated,

[31] Duggan, op. cit.

[32] “APA Review Confirms Link Between Playing Violent Video Games and Aggression,” press release, American Psychological Association, Aug. 13, 2015,

[33] Ibid.

[34] “Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium,” op. cit.

[35] Ibid., p. 3.

[36] Christopher Ferguson, “Clinicians' attitudes toward video games vary as a function of age, gender and negative beliefs about youth: A sociology of media research approach,” Computers in Human Behavior, November 2015, pp. 379–386,

[37] Gee, op. cit., p. 12.

[38] Kowert and Quandt, op. cit., p. 179. Also see Nancy M. Petry and Charles P. O'Brien, “Internet gaming disorder and the DSM-5,” Addiction, May 13, 2013, pp. 1186–1187,

[39] Ibid.

[40] Daniel L. King and Paul H. Delfabbro, “The cognitive psychology of Internet gaming disorder,” Clinical Psychology Review, June 2014, pp. 298–308,

[41] “The Neuroscience of Gaming-Workshop in Brief,” Institute of Medicine, Feb. 2, 2015, p. 5,

[42] Doug Hyun Han et al., “Brain connectivity and psychiatric comorbidity in adolescents with Internet gaming disorder,” Addiction Biology, Dec. 22, 2015,

[43] Edward L. Swing, “Television and video game exposure and the development of attention problems,” Pediatrics, August 2010, pp. 214–221,

[44] Anna V. Sosa, “Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication,” JAMA Pediatrics, February 2016, p. 3573,

[45] Dewey, op. cit.

[46] Duggan, op. cit.

[47] Chelsea Stark, “Diversity report card: Video games passed in 2015, but barely,” Mashable, Dec. 29, 2015,

[48] Susan Kelleher, “‘This has got to change’: Women game developers fight sexism in industry,” The Seattle Times, Aug. 13, 2015,

[49] Nick Wingfield, “Intel Allocates $300 Million for Workplace Diversity,” The New York Times, Jan. 6, 2015, Also see Matt Kamen, “Intel announces fund for greater tech diversity,” Jan, 7, 2015,,

[50] Kelleher, op. cit.

[51] “Brad Wardell GamerGate Interview,” The Escapist, Oct. 10, 2014,

[52] Duggan, op. cit.

[53] “Landmark Report: U.S. Teens Use an Average of Nine Hours of Media Per Day, Tweens Use Six Hours,” op. cit.

[54] Drew Harwell, “More women play video games than boys, and other surprising facts lost in the mess of Gamergate,” The Washington Post, Oct. 17, 2014,

[55] Stephanie Llamas, “Why ALL gamers matter — my view as a female games analyst,” Super Data Research blog, Oct. 28, 2014,

[56] Harwell, op. cit.

[57] Adrienne Shaw, “Not all players are gamers, but why?” Culture Digitally, Dec. 18, 2015,

[58] Rabindra A. Ratan et al., “Stand by Your Man, An examination of Gender Disparity in League of Legends,” Games and Culture, 2015, pp. 438–462.

[59] Van Burnham, Supercade: a visual history of the videogame age, 1971–1984 (2001), p. 18.

[60] “A Video Game Timeline,” The Strong National Museum of Play,

[61] Toppo, op. cit., p. 27.

[62] Damien Djaouti et al., “Origins of Serious Games” in Serious Games and Edutainment Applications (2011), pp. 25–43,

[63] Burnham, op. cit., p. 48.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ralph H. Baer, “Genesis: How the Home Video Games Industry Began,”

[66] “The Brown Box, 1967–68,” Smithsonian National Museum of American History,

[67] “Video Game Console,” Techopedia,

[68] Burnham, op. cit., p. 82.

[69] Ibid., p. 112.

[70] Riad Chikhani, “The History Of Gaming: An Evolving Community,” Tech Crunch, Oct. 31, 2015,

[71] “Video game console sales worldwide for products total lifespan as of October 2015,” Statista,

[72] “Surgeon General Sees Danger in Video Games,” The Associated Press, The New York Times, Nov. 10, 1982,

[73] Djaouti et al., op. cit.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Statista, op. cit.

[76] Chikhani, op. cit.

[77] “Device Ownership Over Time,” Pew Research Center, July 2015,

[78] “The 2015 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry,” Entertainment Software Association,

[79] Paul Kendall, “Angry Birds: the story behind iPhone's gaming phenomenon,” The Telegraph, Feb. 7, 2011,

[80] “Game Markets,” (sidebar), Serious Games Association,

[81] Kathy Sanford et al., “Serious games: video games for good?” e-learning and digital media, Feb. 19, 2015, pp. 90–106,

[82] “Hutspiel,” Serious Game Classification, undated,

[83] Djaouti et al., op. cit.

[84] “A Video Game Timeline,” op. cit.

[85] Djaouti et al., op. cit.

[86] Colin Campbell, “The Oregon Trail was made in just two weeks,” Polygon, July 31, 2013,

[87] “The 2015 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry,” op. cit.

[88] Djaouti et al., op. cit.

[89] Diane Tucker, “Gaming our way to a better future,” The Wilson Center, December 2012,

[90] Djaouti, op. cit.

[91] “Mobile Gaming Consumer Trends in 2014,” press release, The NPD Group, Jan. 27, 2015,

[92] “Kids Move Away From Home Computers for Gaming in Droves,” press release, The NPD Group, Sept. 23, 2015,

[93] “Worldwide digital games market: 2015 total,” op. cit.

[94] “Global Report: US and China Take Half of $113Bn Games Market in 2018,” Newzoo, May 18, 2015,

[95] “Teachers Surveyed on Using Digital Games in Class,” Games and Learning, June 9, 2014,

[96] “Pearson Student Mobile Device Survey 2014,” Pearson, May 9, 2014,

[97] Jeff Herb, “Positive effects of mobile gaming in the classroom,” Instructional Tech Talk, Oct. 3, 2015,

[98] “The Real Work of a 21st Century Education,” Institute of Play, May 2015,

[99] Drew Desilver, “U.S. students improving — slowly — in math and science, but still lagging internationally,” Pew Research Center, Feb. 2, 2015,

[100] “A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” 2012, National Academy of Sciences,

[101] “The Neuroscience of Gaming,” op. cit., p. 2.

[102] Dan O'Keefe, “Quest to Learn: A collaborative effort to design engaging game-like learning environments,” School Library Journal, Dec. 3, 2012, Also see Chicago Quest, “Who we are,”

[103] “The Real Work of a 21st Century Education,” op. cit.

[104] “MacArthur Spins Off Digital Media & Learning Work with $25 Million Seed Investment,” press release, MacArthur Foundation, Oct. 6, 2015,

[105] Tony Wan, “Video Game Industry Gives Education a Reboot at E3 2015,” edSurge, June 21, 2015,

[106] Mark Deloura, “The White House Education Game Jam,” The White House blog, Oct. 6, 2014, Also see “Games for Learning,” Office of Educational Technology, Department of Education, undated,

[107] 2016 National Education Technology Plan, Office of Educational Technology,

[108] Lee Banville, “2016 May Test the Government's Commitment to Learning Games,” games, Dec. 28, 2015,

[109] C. Shawn Green and Aaron R. Seitz, “The Impacts of Video Games on Cognition (and How the Government Can Guide the Industry,” Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, October 2015, pp. 101–110,

[110] Ibid.

[111] “Policy Statement: Children, Adolescents and the Media,” Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, November 2013,

[112] Pearson, op. cit.

[113] “Digital Game Use: Teachers in the Classroom,” University of Michigan, School of Information, Also see Joan Ganz Cooney Center, op. cit., p. 52.

[114] Michael Rundle, “I took VR home for Christmas, and now I'm a believer,” Michael Rundle's blog,, Dec. 28, 2015,

[115] Sophie Curtis, “Minecraft will come to Oculus Rift in Spring 2016,” The Telegraph, Sept. 25, 2015,

[116] Chikhani, op. cit.

[117] Kowert and Quandt, op. cit., pp. 128–129.

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About the Author

Alicia Ault, author of this week's edition of CQ Researcher  

Alicia Ault is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, D.C., area who focuses on science, health and medicine. Currently a contributing writer for Smithsonian and Medscape, she has written for The Washington Post, The New York Times and Wired. She graduated from Boston University with a BA in history and art history and later completed a journalism fellowship in oncology and neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

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Document APA Citation
Ault, A. (2016, February 12). Video games and learning. CQ Researcher, 26, 145-168. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre2016021200
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