Video Games That Promote Learning
Hints of fall are on the horizon. The summer nights are cooler and the back-to-school season is upon us. You may already be busy planning for that first day of school and settling into a new routine. As you’re getting ready, don’t forget to make some time for video games. Yes, video games! Gaming has many educational benefits including creativity, goal setting, problem solving, and teamwork. In addition to these benefits, gaming is associated with cognitive growth. An article from Wiley provides eight cognitive benefits associated with video games including increased coordination, improvements to memory, and social skills. While some games are transparent about their educational benefits (I’m looking at you, Oregon Trail), games don’t need an ‘educational’ label to have merit.
For example, when I was growing up, I played a number of Nancy Drew games. I can remember playing Nancy Drew: Secret of the Scarlet Hand with one of my siblings hovering over my shoulder. In that game, Nancy is tasked with figuring out who has stolen a treasured artifact from a museum exhibit in Washington D.C. Not only were we enthralled by the Maya history shared in the game, but we were caught up in collecting clues and solving puzzles. These kinds of games also promote reading and exploration in environments where it is safe to fail and try again. I can remember walking through one of the opening areas of the game, reading carved panels and listening to the ambient jungle sounds of the exhibit. I was immediately intrigued and curious for what would come next. That’s part of the beauty of video games. They’re able to create such vivid worlds and environments that engage multiple senses.
Whether we talk about children or adult players, video games offer many real-world benefits and skills. So let’s get to it! Here are five video games that promote learning and make for great additions to any back-to-school video game list.
Games for Back-to-School Season
Nancy Drew: Midnight In Salem
“Midnight In Salem engages players with puzzles, problem-solving, history, and a haunting setting.”
The Nancy Drew franchise has produced multiple first-person puzzle adventure games. Through an easy to learn point-and-click interface, players set out to solve a variety of mysteries by way of clues, interrogations, and puzzles. The latest game in the franchise, Nancy Drew: Midnight In Salem, finds Nancy investigating a case of arson while interrogating both the past and present. She’s challenged by apparent supernatural occurrences and must hurry to solve the mystery. Midnight In Salem engages players with puzzles, problem-solving, history, and a haunting setting. Due to the game’s point-and-click mechanics, it’s easy to get into and learn, and both children and adults will find enjoyment in the mystery.
Nancy Drew: Midnight In Salem is available on PC and Mac.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
“The player gets to create their own character… and then settles on a beautiful island. The game also teaches financial responsibility.”
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is an adorable game that allows for the setting of goals, creativity, and invention. The player gets to create their own character (choosing from cosmetic items like hair style and color) and then settles on a beautiful island. The game also teaches financial responsibility. At the start of the game, the player is in-debt to Tom Nook who provides houses, upgrades, and other services. Players can plant fruit, collect bugs, and fish to earn bells and pay off that home loan. But don’t worry! New Horizons offers more than loans and fishing. Players get to customize their islands using items they’ve purchased or found. Want to design your island after Jurassic Park? Go for it! Creativity is a major part of New Horizons. An article from TheGamer highlights some of the awesome designs people have incorporated into their islands.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available on the Nintendo Switch.
“… Stardew Valley is very much a flexible game that allows for individual goal setting.”
Similar to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Stardew Valley presents players with a low-stakes environment. The game starts off by introducing the dilapidated farm the player has inherited and the local community with its charming and curious cast of characters. Stardew Valley is a delightful RPG that focuses on country living and offers its players a lot of freedom. You can build relationships (both romantic and otherwise), explore, mine, farm, and even engage in light combat. But all those elements are optional as Stardew Valley is very much a flexible game that allows for individual goal setting. I have started a handful of farms over the years, and each time I play the game differently depending on the goals I establish for myself. Stardew Valley can also be played together with friends via local or online co-op.
Stardew Valley is available on PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android.
“…it offers depth in its mechanics and presents players with much to learn about creating exhibits, animal welfare, and contributing to conservation efforts.”
Planet Zoo is a simulation game from the developer of games like RollerCoaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon. This game is truly a gem. At its core, Planet Zoo is a game about running zoos, but it offers depth in its mechanics and presents players with much to learn about creating exhibits, animal welfare, and contributing to conservation efforts. I’ve experienced hours of fun simply designing zoo layouts, customizing exhibits, and planning for the needs of my guests. If you’ve played games like RollerCoaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon, you’ll likely feel at home with Planet Zoo. If you haven’t played a simulator like this before, it’s worth checking out. The game teaches players how to manage the happiness of animals and guests while also instilling messages about wildlife conservation.
Planet Zoo is available on PC.
“…this chaotic cooking simulator is a ton of fun and best played with family or friends as it requires constant communication and cooperation to successfully complete each level.”
Teamwork is the name of the game when it comes to Overcooked 2. Overcooked 2 is a cooking simulator in which up to four players work together to master individual levels. Players will need to collect ingredients, prepare and cook those ingredients, and then serve meals on plates which must be delivered promptly. All of this is done in absurdly designed levels that often require players to take turns and commit to certain tasks. If it sounds like chaos, you’re not far off. But this chaotic cooking simulator is a ton of fun and best played with family or friends as it requires constant communication and cooperation to successfully complete each level.
Overcooked 2 is available on PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
Whether you’re interested in solving mysteries or learning more about wildlife conservation, there are many options for video games that entertain and educate for back-to-school.
What are some of your favorite back-to-school games that help foster skills like creativity and problem-solving? Let us know in the comments!
The Gaming Teacher is a blogger who discusses video games and culture from an educator’s perspective!
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