Videogames have a stigma in society that they are considered a waste of time and an unproductive entertainment source for unsocial people who sit on a computer or a couch all day. What is often overlooked in videogames is that they can actually be a source of education both in terms of developing skills as well as being a source to increase knowledge.
One of my personal experiences with gaining knowledge through videogames is with sports videogames. An area where sports videogames are great educational tools is through their ability to inform a videogame player of the rules and terminology associated with sports. Learning about sports through videogames has been extremely effective for me as I find I take an active approach to learning by being able to control a figure within the game in comparison to learning from a television broadcast where I take a passive approach due to the lack of interactivity to what is exhibited on the screen. One of my earliest memories of trying to learn a sport was Rugby, in which I ended up buying Rugby 2004 on PS2. It was through Rugby 2004 that I was able to gain a wealth of knowledge not only about the rules and terminology of the game but also about the various professional teams and players present in the game.
I think one of the main reasons why videogames get flack for being a waste of time is due to the fantasy elements of a majority of videogames, particularly those games that follow a story. What many people fail to recognise is that within some videogames, the promotion of critical development skills are actually embedded within the game. Areas of skill development that videogames promote include areas of language/reading, maths, social, spatial visualization and problem solving skills. Obviously what type of videogame someone plays will alter how educational a game will be.
Videogames that I feel promote development of a large number of these skills are strategy games such as the Warcraft series. Language and reading skills are incorporated in regards to reading in game text, while maths and social skills are utilised in regards to calculating resource usage and working with teammates, respectively. Additionally spatial visualization and problem solving skills play a vital part in strategy games particularly in regards to visualizing how to build your base and deciding where to place certain buildings to increase efficiency of resource collection.
Also worth mentioning, is that many modern videogames promote a trial and error approach to learning and developing skill through the repeat checkpoint mechanism when a level is failed. Unchartered (PS3) comes to mind as a game that tries to foster this trial and error approach. This approach is particularly prevalent on levels where the player needs to use skills in spatial visualization to avoid being detected by certain enemies within the world of the game otherwise the level is failed and the player will have to start the level again.
Videogames bring new techniques to develop education and skill. I don’t believe they will ever displace traditional educational/learning methods, but I believe they could be viewed as complementary. It will be interesting to see whether videogames will be one day incorporated into the classroom in order for educators to take advantage of the educational qualities that come along with playing a videogame.