My Perspective on the State of the Games for Learning Industry

StartBy Melissa Pelletier

State of the Games for Learning Industry:

Games are a popular medium of entertainment for people of all ages. A lot of attention and research has gone into the utility of digital games for learning and much has been written about the educational potential of games (Gee, 2003; Shaffer, 2007; Squire, 2006; Steinkeuhler, 2006). The fascination with and research on the cognitive and learning processes that occurs during videogame play is becoming increasingly prominent — so much so, that a national conference dedicated entirely to this topic was launched by Dr. James Paul Gee in 2004 as a venue for scholarly discourse (Games, Learning and Society, In this growing field of gaming research, scholars are addressing the nature of cognitive and emotional development, literacy practices, and thinking and learning during game play in a range of gaming environments and genres (Caperton, 2010).

Some of the earliest studies involving games and learning focused on games’ motivational aspects. One of the earliest, and most cited, research works is by Thomas Malone (1981) who identified three main ways in which games were able to motivate players: fantasy, challenge, and curiosity. Other research confirms these findings; for example, in research using educational software, Amory et al (1988) identified curiosity as a common motive in playing a game. Presumably the fact that something does happen encourages players to proceed, and the quality of what happens in terms of user engagement is the factor that keeps them playing (Kirriemuir, McFarlane, 2004).

Futurelab’s Literature Review in Games and Learning highlights the key areas of research in the field, in particular the increasing interest in pleasurable learning, learning through doing and learning through collaboration, that games seem to offer (Kirriemuir, McFarlane, 2004). They also point out that research evidence is complex and thinly spread. The study of computer games, or game players, cannot be mapped onto one research discipline. Relevant areas of study include, but are not limited to computer science, education, psychology, youth and media and cultural studies. As a result, aspects of investigation into games and game players can ‘straddle’ several different academic disciplines (Kirriemuir, McFarlane, 2004). This provides further complications in establishing design patterns and standards for games, as designers and developers would benefit from considering all relevant areas of study.

Barriers to Games’ implementation in the classroom:

We are at a point where there is enough research to support the investment in further studies on games and learning, but we are not at a point where educators and curriculum planners in traditional school systems will magically incorporate games as a part of the core standards. However board games have had a successful presence in classrooms, being a relatively easy medium to incorporate into math education. The games aren’t typically used to replace the curriculum, but to supplement it. The potential for video and mobile games to motivate and inspire students has generated much analysis of the possibilities for digital games’ use in the classroom.

Futurelab’s Literature Review asserts that the use of mainstream games (popular titles played on a Personal Computer, or on a Console such as an XBOX or Play Station) in schools remains rare, and is unlikely to be integrated into the curriculum. Reasons for this include (Kirriemuir, McFarlane, 2004):

–       It is quite difficult for teachers to identify quickly how a particular game is relevant to some component of the statutory curriculum, as well as the accuracy and appropriateness of the content within the game.

–       The difficulty in persuading other school stakeholders as to the potential/actual educational benefits of computer games.

–       The lack of time available to teachers to familiarize themselves with the game, and methods of producing the best results from its use.

–       The amount of irrelevant content or functionality in a game that could not be removed or ignored, thus wasting valuable lesson time.

We need to design games and implement curricula including games while keeping these factors in mind.


Shaffer, D. W., Squire, K. A., Halverson, R., & Gee, J. P. (2005). Video games and the future of learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(2), 105-111.

Caperton, I.H. (2010). Toward a Theory of Game-Media Literacy: Playing and Building as Reading and Writing, International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 2(1)

Malone, T (1981). Toward a theory of intrinsically motivating instruction. Cognitive Science, 4: 333-369

Armory, A et al (1998). Computer Games as a Learning Resource. Ed-Media conference proceedings.

Kirriemuir, J., McFarlane, A. (2004), Literature Review in Games and Learning. Futurelab.