2 Nov





 min read

A History of Video Games in Education

For decades, schools have used video games to innovate lessons, take kids back in time, and foster creative problem-solving.

Video games have bookmarked the school days of children for years. While many believe video games are only a past-time, education has long seen the classroom benefits of the medium. A history of video games in education extends back to the 1960s (the dawning of the gaming industry, itself).

While the full timeline of video game’s seat in the classroom is filled with technological anecdotes and pop-culture milestones, we’ll focus on the most memorable (and impactful) games to hit campus screens. 

The Oregon Trail

If you played The Oregon Trail, you learned the delicate art of making life-altering choices and limited resource management. We know that sounds intense for a kid game, but, trust us, nothing was as griping and historically poignant as this iconic classroom game. 

Dominating school computers through the late 1970s, 1980s, and even 1990s, The Oregon Trail is the quintessential educational video game. Thanks to the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, schools were able to purchase over 300 educational games for the then novel Apple II. One of those games was The Oregon Trail

In a perfect storm of student accessibility and quality gameplay, the video game based on pioneering in the 1800s allowed students to actively role-play in a time period forigen to their own. Unlike the mediums of theater, history lessons, and television, video games allowed students to participate in real-time consequences. 

Originally created for a history class, the game’s creators, Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann and Paul Dillenberger, painstakingly crafted an accurate pioneering America. Students were responsible for making it across the trail and making the necessary choices to keep their two-dimensional video game companions alive on the trail. 

The game allowed students to empathize with history. The consequences and victories in the game felt personal. Students walked away better able to synthesize the impacts of that time period and the difficulties experienced. 

Similarly, Minecraft for Education allows students to not only role-play in different time periods, but to create them. It is a perfect example of The Oregon Trails origins and how the medium has evolved for more autonomy over time. 

For example, this California teacher and his students created an 8th century Baghdad city. Together, they “encountered” history, as outlined by the state’s curriculum goals for that year. 

Typing Games 

Video games’ history in the classroom didn’t stop at the history books. Typing games proved to be a seamless and entertaining way to orient students to a computer and learn new skills. Today, typing games are easy to find. They come in a wide variety of play styles and can even be modified for physical and mental disabilities.

One of the most infamous typing games is Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. With a virtual teacher and a suite of different mini-games that challenged typing dexterity, the game was an engaging way for students in the 1990s and early 2000s to learn the typing skills that would define the rest of their working lives. 

Typing games differ from role-playing games (like The Oregon Trail). They don’t let students assert their identity in a new world. Rather, they ask students to practice a real-life skill in a way that feels exciting. This makes learning more enjoyable, especially for a mundane and tedious skill like typing. 

Mavis Beacon was the bread and butter of computer class for a generation of students. As time has gone on, typing games have become sleek. And, with the passage of time, comes even new technologies for kids to explore. 

Google AI Experiments 

Where the 1960s-2000s saw the rise of the personal computer and the internet, the 2010s and 2020s is the rise of artificial intelligence. Presently, artificial intelligence is found in nearly every device we use. It is what puts the “smart” in smartphones. 

From search engines, voice assistants (like Alexa), online shopping, streaming services, and more, artificial intelligences ubiquity demands a classroom’s attention. Afterall, everything we learn in school should reflect what is happening in the world. 

Google AI Experiments boasts a wide array of free to play AI games suitable for students K-12 and beyond. Quick Draw, for example, has students compete in a game of pictionary with an AI. With attached tutorials and breakdowns, students (and teachers) can easily understand how the AI in that game is working and why it is relevant for our daily lives. 

In Emoji Scavengerhunt, students use the camera of a mobile device to find “emojis” around the room. For example, if the emoji is a shoe, they need to find a shoe in the room. Students are utilizing computer vision in this game, but it is introduced in a way that is exhilarating – students often race each other around the classroom to beat the clock on this game. 

The history of video games in education is never ending. As technology grows, our need to teach students new skills remains. As we move further along in time, we will always need a way to remind students of the world and societies that came before their own. Whether you introduce students to the classic educational games or search for new ones, there is a clear generational nostalgia that rests in games’ ability to help us learn in memorable ways. The history of that nostalgia is still being built everyday. In the current day and age, games are presenting themselves in the classroom in a new way: esports. If you are interested in learning more about what esports is, you can visit our blog. Want to get your school involved? Learn more on our website.

Video games have long been a part of education. As a classroom medium, their ability to capture attention and motivate children’s curiosity is integral to an engaging learning experience.

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