The following is a description of learning: “[People] achieve a routinized, taken-for-granted mastery of certain skills. Then [they are confronted] with a new problem … which forces [them] to rethink their now taken-for-granted mastery and to integrate their old skills with new ones. Then these new sorts of problems are practiced until a new higher-order routinized, taken-for-granted mastery occurs. This cycle is repeated … This cycle is the basis for producing expertise in any area.” Who would have guessed that, in context, this description refers to playing video games? (see here
“Learning” has long been a phenomenon of interest to cognitive scientists. However while myriad studies have been conducted and much has been learned, the application of this information rarely manifests in meaningful ways (ex. in schools or training seminars). It seems, though, that through their intuitive and interactive nature, video games have mastered the art of teaching both skills and knowledge.
Video games succeed because they teach players skills and knowledge, and then immediately demand their use. How is this different from classroom learning and homework problems? Unlike traditional schooling strategies, video games create an interesting and submersive environment, allowing players (“students”) to passively learn, practice as much or little as they desire, and progress when they are ready, while simultaneously providing a degree of challenge. This individuality allows players to tailor their experiences to fit their own style and personal skill level.
Most interestingly, good video games motivate players to continue learning and constantly improve their skills. The creation of online gaming, for example, has not only greatly extended the content and replayability of video games, but also raised the skill-ceiling to astronomical levels.
Will the innovations of video games be used in the future of education? To some extent, they already are. Some games, like Math Blaster, explicitly utilize academic content. Others, such as Assassin’s Creed, weave fact with fantasy and provide a passive academic learning experience. Even more games require the implicit usage of academic knowledge and/or problem solving skills, from static calculations and data recollection (ex. Pokemon) to complex reactive decisions demanding real-time strategy (ex. Starcraft). Thus it seems the medium of video games has much to contribute to the study of learning.
For a different but equally interesting real-word application of video game knowledge, see here.