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What We Learn From Gaming

Consider that game design and learning aren't magical happenings that exist outside of common sense and reasoning. Consider that learning anything well involves some exposure, experimentation, repetition, reflection, and even guidance. And consider that all of our experiences stack upon each other making up who we are, how we think, and how we understand everything else we experience.

Consider that everything we do is serious to our brains. Whether in class or in a boss battle our brains are absorbing our experiences and organizing them by connecting similar ideas/activities and recognizing patterns. Video games are unlike anything else out there. Each game has its own set of rules and ways to interact with the system. Because video games can be so fun, it's not uncommon for players to put many hours into a game. It's also not uncommon for players to improve over time.


So I thought about the different concepts that different games iron into players through their rules, structured interactive environment, and repetition. Simply doing what it takes to get from point A to point B in a video game can force us to internalize many different concepts. The following is a short list of some of the concepts players can pick up while playing specific video games.

  • Tetris: a kind of division with remainders or factoring out elements by whole amounts
  • Picross: counting and deductive reasoning
  • Guitar Hero (any game with combo multipliers): multiplication
  • Katamari Damacy: volume and scale
  • 2D Mario Platformers: projectile motion
  • Little Big Planet: programming logic
  • World of Goo: 2D physics based structures and bridges
  • Professor Layton: reading comprehension, logic, and analytical skills
  • Rhythm Heaven (music rhythm games in general): rhythm and timing
  • Sudoku: deductive reasoning
  • Sim Life: biology and evolution
  • Pokemon: genetic variation
  • StarCraft (RTSs in general):resource management, calculus
  • Portal: 3D spatial reasoning
  • player stats (game stats in general): processing data sheets
  • Metroid/Zelda series (many other games as well): map building and reading skills
  • Simon: memorization
  • Team based/ Co op games: team work, group dynamics, role assignment
  • The Typing of the Dead: typing.


I'm confident that the accelerated rate that I progressed through my beginning piano lessons was due to my experience with video games. After playing games like Super Mario Brothers 3 and Mega Man, playing Mary Had A Little Lamb on a 5 button controller (the piano) was a piece of cake.

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Reader Comments (4)

Crowd navigation is a big one for me. Being able to travel at a consistent speed from point A to point B by understanding how people travel, adjusting for random factors like stopping or turning, being able to predict where the trouble will be and how to avoid funnels.

This has been especially useful in skateboarding at COB in the city.

April 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Purvis

@ Daniel Purvis

Indeed. I was looking for a way to phrase "crowd navigation." I was thinking about saying how video games teach player to perceive and process lots of bits of information according to some functional aim. But that's what all games do.

There's no classic role playing games in there? Talking about stuff like Baldur's Gate, I do think they taught me about a few things though.
- Soft skills. How will you talk to people around you, and how will it change their views on you. (Of course it mostly taught you to be the noble nice guy to have success. Then again, putting on a suit and being friendly works wonders in real life, too!)
- "Planning" comes to my mind. Is it the same thing than resource management? Organizing your resources (who will get what item in order to maximize your combat winning probability). Similar to RTS, possibly more complex, usually without the time pressure. Additionally, the planning of tasks in the form of multiple quests you get along the way.
- Map reading as in Zelda, of course...

May 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPhilippe

@ Philippe

I've never played any classic role playing games, so I couldn't come up with any good examples for the list.

"Planning" is a good one that comes in many different styles and forms across many video games. The strategies in some games require you to understand rates of attrition. Others, thinking moves into the future. Others, optimizing the strength of party members by moving around items, equipment, and creating specialized roles.

Basically, games are really good at making your think in terms of the end result/function.

Good follow up comment.

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