The State of Educational games
Educational video games have had a bad rep for a while now. Yes, many games teach children spelling, mathematics, typing, and other fundamental skills, but aren't engaging enough to keep the attention of more mature audiences. However, many games that do not appear to be educational can teach players more complex skills and concepts very effectively. These skills range from how to change the tires on your car to complex orbital spacecraft design and programming. In this article, we will dive into 10 video games that aren't considered to be "educational" but can be used to educate youth about science, mathematics, and general life skills.
Platforms: PC, Mobile, Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Switch
Areas of learning: Numerous
Since its launch in 2011, Minecraft has become one of the most recognizable games around the world, maybe falling only behind Super Mario bros and Pac-Man. The education potential in Minecraft is twofold: Minecraft.edu is Minecraft’s education-focused version of the game, but even the regular version of Minecraft can be used to teach micro circuitry foundational logic.
Yes, you read that right. Minecraft players have used redstone - the game’s electricity system - to create truly impressive systems, including, but not limited to musical instruments, digital calculators, and even fully functioning computers, using redstone torches as binary bits of data, the foundation of all electronics.
Areas of Learning: Programming, algorithms, and artificial intelligence
Kerbal Space Program
Platforms: PC, Playstation, Xbox
Areas of Learning: Math, Physics, and astronomy
In Kerbal Space Program is a quirky game in which the player operates a space flight research program and attempts to send their “Kerbals” into orbit. Although Kerbal Space Program is not a perfect simulation of the universe, it has impressively accurate physics involved. For example, Having lopsided engines on your spacecraft will send your shuttle up into the air, and shortly afterward will careen back into the earth (an experience you will have many times over early in the game)
Platforms: PC, Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch
Areas of Learning: Physics and Problem Solving
Portal 2 is a mind-bending puzzle game where you play as a test subject trying to escape Aperture Science laboratories by overcoming tests that require you to manipulate the level using your two-way portal gun. Portal facilitates learning by teaching about momentum and forcing the player to think outside of the box to overcome challenges. The game also happens to be hysterically funny at times.
Platforms: Mobile PC Playstation Xbox
Area of learning: Engineering
Bridge constructor is the ultimate structural engineering game. Using various building materials such as wood, steel, concrete, and cables - and a large amount of trial and error - the player must build a structurally sound bridge to allow vehicles to traverse the dangerous terrain. This game is quite challenging
Ancestors, the Humankind Odyssey
Platforms: Playstation, Xbox, PC
Areas of learning: Biology and evolution
Ancestors, the Humankind Odyssey sends the player through an evolutionary story spanning between ten and two million years ago. The player evolves their colony by encountering new plants and animals, determining which are edible, useful, or dangerous, slowly evolving.
Areas of learning: Evolution
Spore is a game that I hold near and dear to my heart. In Spore the player starts as a single cell organism swimming in a pool of water, making small changes to their creature as they accrue more DNA points. Over time, your single cell then goes on to become terrestrial, tribal, colonial, and even extraterrestrial. This game teaches evolution in a way that also fosters creativity
Platforms: Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC, Google Stadia
Areas of Learning: Urban planning and Management
When I played Cities: Skylines for the first time, I didn't know anything about urban planning and couldn't stop areas of my city from burning to the ground. Later, I found that because I handled traffic so horribly that fire engines struggled to make their way to a fire in time, while also causing traffic jams. Fixing these mistakes meant costly repair bills, requiring my city to maintain a healthy bottom line.
Pro tip: roundabouts are great for managing traffic.
Cities: Skylines is an excellent tool to educate youth on how cities are created and maintained.
Area of learning: problem-solving and decision making
This game may come as a surprise on this list. If you’ve played Tetris before, you already know how much this blocky technicolor game can make your heart pound. Tetris’s educational aspect takes shape (pun intended) as the game picks up speed.
In the early stages of the game, the player can quite easily determine the most optimal place to put blocks. As you clear rows, the game gets progressively faster, increasing the challenge. The player must then make split-second decisions to place blocks in the spaces that either cause the least clutter or clear the most lines depending on what is more valuable at that moment.
Areas of learning: Abstract reasoning and pattern recognition
Chess is a famously intellectual game, having had numerous books written solely on opening moves, not to mention the countless other books regarding general strategies. It is said that a new player to the game can accurately plan out their next two to three moves, but a grandmaster chess player can plan as far as sixteen to twenty moves in advance.
This is because as you play more games of chess, you begin to recognize various situations you have been in in the past, and can plan your next moves accordingly. Chess is a powerful method of teaching pattern recognition.