You Don’t Have to be a Gamer couple of weeks ago, at my state’s educational technology conference (NCETC), I tried out several new presentations.  One that seemed to be a hit was Video Games and Education, a one-hour introduction to the basics of video games.  I must confess that I felt a bit disingenuous in presenting this topic, as I am considerably older than the 34 years that Beck and Wade1 report to be the cutoff for people who have grown up playing video games. 

Among the topics were video games’ rapid evolution (Pong to PlayStation-2 Pro Tennis), the various genre (Platformer, adventure, MMORPG, Simulations, etc.), how most games today are actually a hybrid of all of them, and various twenty-first century skills that seem ready-made for video games as a learning tool:

  • Critical Thinking/Problem-Solving
  • Teamwork/Collaboration
  • Leadership
  • Creativity/Innovation
  • Ethics/Social Responsibility2

We also explored some of the Serious Games that are being developed (Food Force and Carnegie Melon’s PeaceMaker), virtual worlds (NICE3 and Second Life), and large-scale urban games, things you can do outdoors with mobile phones, such as lifesize PacMan in Manhattan — think about it.

What surprised me (or what I hadn’t taken time to really think about) was the people who attended and the reasons why they attended.  There were a handful who are obviously younger than 34, who are gamers, and who get the idea that many video games are learning engines.  There were also a large number of tech directors who are always looking for what’s new.  They’ve already seen presentations about Inspiration, PowerPoint, using Word to teach writing, and even Blogging 101.  There were also a number of people who said afterward that they had come in as skeptics, completely unconvinced as to any instructional value to video games.  One man actually came up before the session asking how kids could possibly learn when they are in the Alpha state that video games have been proven to put them in — so 1990s.

What bothered me were the parents who came up afterward thanking me for helping them to realize that their children’s hours at playing video games was actually healthy.  Wow!  That  is not what I’d meant to convey.  “Just because there is some potent redeeming value to playing many video games, doesn’t mean that you can stop being a parent.  You must continue to talk to your children about what they are doing, and send them outside every once in a while.”

A LAN Party

But I think that the best part of the presentation was the last slide, which lists some things that we can do today to start benefiting from our students’ video game activities today.  This is an edited list that I got from Bill Sams4.

  • Start a gaming club in your school.  Set up some LAN parties in your library.  Get students talking about video games within the context of their schooling.
  • Students are great resource on video games.  Allow them to talk about them and teach you.
  • Connect with the serious game effort (
  • Recruit the Digital Natives in your faculty.
  • Pay attention to the Key Players (Henry Jenkins, Jame Paul Gee, and others).
  • Pay attention to your students.  Ask them about their games.  Ask them to write about their gaming experiences.  Ask them to describe their avatars and their ambitions for their avatars.

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1 Beck, John, and Mitchell Wade. Got Game. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004.
2 McLester, Susan. “The Workforce Readiness Crisis.” Technology & Learning 27(2006): 22 – 29.
3 Johnson, Andrew. “The NICE Project: Learning Together in a Virtual World.” Proceedings of VRAIS ’98. 28 Dec 1997. Electronic Visualization Project, University of Illinois. 11 Dec 2006 <>.
4 Sams, Bill. “Games, Multi-Player Environments, Immersive Reality: Virtual Worlds & Avatars: What does it mean for learning? .” TeachU. Jan 2006.

Image Citation:
Ronberg, NK. “DSC_1937.” Nkronberg’s Photostream. 16 Aug 2006. 11 Dec 2006 <>.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.