8 Ways Video Games Can Actually Make You Smarter

The first time I used a PC was in 1994 when my mom and dad revealed a giant piece of machinery equipped with Windows 3.1x to me and my sister. Fortunately, the computer was accessorized with the Lion King CD-ROM, a game which was more than just an interactive version of my favorite movie, but also an educational experience. Soon after, I would add games like Math Blaster, Carmen Sandiego, and The Amazon Trail to my collection, all of which have solidified my opinion that video games are, in fact, a terrific educational tool. Below is a quick list of eight ways video games can actually educate.

1. More Than Just Memorization

The Institute of Play is a pioneer in the application of video games in the classroom. Instead of focusing on basic memorization, a tradition which has become obsolete in an age in which we have access to infinite knowledge 24/7 from our phones, video-game-driven education empowers students to interact with knowledge, push boundaries, and find solutions with real-time feedback from the gaming console.

2. The Ability to Solve Complex Problems

Many strategy games encourage the gamer to find creative solutions to complex problems. In games such as Splinter Cell, you must employ self-control and problem solving skills to maneuver through complex mazes, avoiding detection. Prince of Persia, another popular strategy game, gives gamers the ability to manipulate time, allowing for rapid interaction with what they just learned by failing on the first attempt, without the frustration of being forced to restart from a distant checkpoint.

3. Generating Interest in History

Assassin's Creed has been particularly successful in motivating its gamer base to crack a book or two in order to better understand the fictitious plot. Although it is possible to get through the game without researching the historical context, doing so dramatically enhances the gaming experience. With each release of this popular franchise, gamers are transported from their couch to Jerusalem during the Third Crusade, the Italian Renaissance, the Ottoman Empire, or the American Revolution. With each new location, gamers become familiar with the historical landscape of a new time and place.

4. Vocational Training

With greater frequency, the military, medical schools, and police academies are enlisting the help of video game designers to provide on the job training scenarios in a much safer environment. By doing so, a pilot may practice difficult landing scenarios using state of the art simulators and a med student can log countless hours in the operating room without ever jeopardizing a patient's life. A recent statistic estimates that 70% of major employers now provide interactive software and games for employee training purposes.

5. Spatial Analysis

With LittleBigPlanet for PlayStation 3, you can build in and manipulate, the environment through a series of problem-solving activities and challenges. The ability to interact with and share the work you’ve done on your personal spot of virtual territory, inspires children to think bigger than they generally would in a typical classroom setting. This game has been particularly successful at Quest to Learn (Q2L), the first American school built with a videogame based approach to education.

6. Teamwork

A majority of games now, regardless of genre, have an online multiplayer component. By acting as a team, the gameplay is dramatically enhanced. If a randomly assigned group of gamers playing Halo cannot act as a cohesive unit on the blue team, they will undoubtedly fail to best the red squadron.

7. Promoting Exercise

With the recent rise of motion play, devices such as Nintendo's Wii, Microsoft's Xbox 360 Kinect, and Sony's Playstation Move encourage physical activity amidst game play, while also teaching vital nutrition lessons and exercise habits. The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that children using various interactive gaming systems "compared favorably with walking on a treadmill at three miles per hour, with four out of the six activities resulting in higher energy expenditure."

8. Classic Learning Games

Still not convinced that video games do more harm than good? There are countless titles such as Civilization, The Oregon Trail, and Freddi the Fish which use game play to teach specific school subjects. Entire brands such as LeapFrog exist for the sole purpose of advancing education.