Educational values acquired in Video Games

Transferrable skills acquired through gaming

Constance Steinkuehler. 2007. Massively multiplayer online games \& education: an outline of research. In Proceedings of the 8th iternational conference on Computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL’07), Clark A. Chinn, Gijsbert Erkens, and Sadhana Puntambekar (Eds.). International Society of the Learning Sciences 675-685.

Research published by Constance Steinkuehler in 2007 explored areas around what people who engaged with massively multiplayer online games more than traditional entertainment methods learned from doing so. There was little research that could lead him to find the answer to the question, “what, if anything, was the intellectual merit of playing in virtual worlds?” Cognitive ethnography data collection allowed the research to focus on how actions in a virtual world relate to learning in reality. Steinkuehler proposed a set of six areas, which highlight where online multiplayer environments foster learning of real-life skills. The aim of this report is to show that the areas of learning Steinkuehler demonstrates in his paper can apply to games outside the MMO genre.

Throughout this report I will cover four methods of learning, all mentioned in Steinkuehler’s paper, found within examples of modern video games.

The first learning method to discuss is socially and materially distributed cognition, which involves the organization of time and resources.

“…the coordination of people, tools… across multiple multimedia, multimodal ‘attention spaces’ [1]”

No specific examples are touched upon in the paper; the management of time and resources usually plays a critical role with the real-time strategy genre of games.

Starcraft by Blizzard [2] has bolstered its popularity in recent times through the upheaval of e-sports, attracting viewer figures exceeding 430,000 people [3]. The game received praise for its meticulous management of both army and economy, each with unique nuances. Seasoned players will learn to identify risks and have the capacity to locate solutions or compromises.

It was in light of this that Nate Poling proposed using Starcraft to hone management skills by offering an honours course, 21st Century Skills in Starcraft [4]. The course is designed to take advantage of the intricate scenarios that occur in game, applying them to the workplace [5].

The next method, collaborative problem solving, includes creation of functional teams, both in game or as a community around a game. A game that exemplifies the values of collaboration is Portal 2 by Valve [6]. Portal 2 cooperative gameplay involves solving puzzles where participation of both players is critical to finding a solution.

There tends to be two types of puzzle in Portal. There are those where the first player solving a problem will move the second player closer to the exit followed by the second player solving a puzzle to move the first player closer, a back and forth collaboration. The second type involves both players actively participating in a puzzle at the same time. Typical to both types of puzzle, there may be times when one player must communicate with the other whilst working towards the solution. Voice communication lets another player know your thoughts on the current puzzle, directly improving communication skills by explaining your rationale as coherently as possible. An intuitive pointer is included in the game and functions very well at conveying ideas where voice communication is not possible.

Another element introduced to the game was cooperative challenge mode [7]. In this mode both players must work together to finish a puzzle as fast and efficiently as possible. This requires a thorough understanding of each puzzle and a planned route from beginning to end, where roles and responsibilities are well defined. As with general puzzle solving, each player is accountable for his or her own performance and repeated failure leads to disapproval.

With the incentive of global competitive leader boards, good preparation and teamwork receives a higher ranking. The desire to work well together to achieve a goal reflects the self-organising trait mentioned by Steinkuehler in his paper with regards to MMO teams participating in raiding [1].

Parallel to these points, working well in a team is highly valued in the workplace and many other aspects of life, and being aware of your own roles and responsibilities in a team is a trait sought amongst employers [8].

The next area focuses on novel literacy practices, a method of learning highly specialised forms of language that tend to surround video games. One of the most comprehensive examples of this phenomenon is the Pokémon series. As a video game series, Pokémon has been growing since 1996 and as a result, the terminology and character base has been growing as well.

Currently the official number of Pokémon stands at 655 following recent announcements from the official Pokémon website [9]. This number is set to grow upon release of the next generation of games in the series due October 2013 worldwide [10]. With such a vast number of Pokémon with an equally vast pool of attacks that can be learned [11], the vocabulary alone required to understand the Pokémon games truly is a mountain for new players. However, the learning curve is somewhat unexpectedly accommodating and a general understanding is achievable with in-game explanation.

The complexity of unseen statistics in Pokémon expands well beyond the boundaries of most players, yet many communities explore them. Full communities have grown around the existence of these statistics. The prime example of this is a website called Smogon University, a comprehensive online collection of material centred around competitive gameplay [12].

Most visitors to Smogon University are seeking to research strategy and news around the competitive battle scene. The reason they choose Smogon is that the wisdom of the crowd helps verify strategies and ideas to the point where they become the new standard in gameplay. This method of rigorous design and hypothesis testing mimics scientific testing and is the cornerstone of scientific proof.

The diversity of the online communities that have grown around Pokémon is quite inspired. Worthy of a brief mention, in relation to Steinkuehler’s paper, fan fiction exists in abundance [1]. In the same way as the paper describes, the motivation for many of the authors of fan fiction is to socialise with others in an external environment to their own, fostering inter-cultural communication and integration. There are even Wiki’s that will help less experienced writers form their stories [13]. Practicing creative writing skills can apply to almost any career, communication in written form is always important.

The final learning outcome experienced because of video games is computational literacy. The ability to improve this skill has its roots within communities who enjoy the challenge of creating modifications or additional content for games. In times gone by, and at the time of Steinkuehler’s research, those who mod focused on creation of technical tweaks to improve a game, create a new visual element, or add some functionality. With the introduction of Steam Workshop, these actions are becoming less prominent in the place of user content creation [14].

Games such as Skyrim and Portal 2 help fuel the shift from modification to in-game content. Using editing and authoring tools, users have created approximately 340,000 pieces of content for the Workshop. Experience attained from novel content creation ideas sometimes sparks interest from game developers.

The rise of user created content has not stopped the creation of game modifications. Games such as Minecraft saw developers Mojang place a great deal of importance on supporting game mods through an accessible API. They are currently working with the Bukkit team, a group of modders with a strong understanding of Minecraft, to create this API [15].

As I have demonstrated, aspects of learning exist not only in MMOGs, but also in a much wider variety of games. Skills ranging from written communication to hypothesis testing present themselves to us quite often subconsciously, under the guise of entertainment. Whether we are aware or not, games are building and compounding valuable skills into us every day.


1. Steinkuehler, C., Massively multiplayer online games \& education: an outline of research, in Proceedings of the 8th iternational conference on Computer supported collaborative learning2007, International Society of the Learning Sciences: New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA. p. 675-685.
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13. wikiHow. How to Write Pokemon Fanfiction. February 15, 2013]; Available from:
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15. Wiki, M. Plugin API. 2012 February 15, 2013]; Available from:

Keep collecting coins,
Keep making doors open.