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Digital games and Virtual Reality for education. Just another hype?

Digital games (video, computer, mobile, console games) have become mainstream entertainment medium for many regardless of age and gender. 7 in 10 adults in America play some sort of digital game (1) and about 6 in 10 Europeans between ages 6-64 years play video games (2).

The attractiveness of video games come from their abilities to present compelling narratives in high definition graphics that are visually pleasing. Another very important feature of these games is their interactive interfaces that allow players the autonomy to complete challenging but doable tasks while receiving instant feedback. Most well designed digital games are very engaging, depicting complex environments in which players can strategically interact with in order to achieve given goals.

These qualities of digital games and the fact that they can keep players playing for long hours for no external gratifications other than the gameplay itself have sparked interest in their use for educational purposes. Digital games are believed to motivate students to learn more while having fun. Several educational (or serious) games have been successfully developed and used for educational purposes. These games designed with particular learning outcomes in mind, other than just fun, have been proven beneficial for teaching and learning.

With rapid advances in technology, virtual reality tools are now readily available and affordable. Like digital games, there is continuing rise in the use of VR for education and training purposes. VR uses computer generated 3D graphics to simulate real life environments. This technology takes the contextual learning experience obtainable in digital games to a whole new level. Immersion and a sense of presence are the two affordances of VR that makes them revolutionary. When using a VR head-mounted device, one experiences full immersion in the simulated environment with nothing but a sense of presence in the virtual environment. VR offers the possibility to view and interact with simulated environments in a realistic manner.

Many benefits of these technologies have been reported across diverse disciplines and ages. Digital games have been found to enhance numeracy and literacy skills in children. They have been used to teach critical thinking and problem solving skills, spatial skills as well as other domain specific learning outcomes. VR and digital games have been used for rehabilitation purposes, to influence behavioural/attitudinal changes as well as for procedural skills development. The situated and contextual learning experience afforded by these technologies make them invaluable for knowledge and skills development. Medical training, military, pilot and plant operator training have all been successfully conducted in VR environments. The list goes on. These tools have been found to be safe, inexpensive and sometimes, more ethical alternative to training in real environments.

Digital games and VR for education is not just a hype. They promote learning-by-doing, critical thinking skills, decision-making skills, and the visualization of otherwise difficult to see environments. They also lead to ‘difficult-to-forget experiences’, hence promoting deep learning and longer retention. My first zombie game experience was in VR. It could not be more real! The feeling of “being there”, and fighting for my life as I come face-to-face with killer zombies makes for an unforgettable experience.

As expected, incorporating games and VR into traditional educational practices is not without challenges. Design considerations, teaching and learning implications, assessment methods as well as training strategies are some of what our team at CHARMING European Training Network are working tirelessly to accomplish. By the end of our research, we hope to come up with holistic practical solutions towards effectively using augmented reality, VR, and digital games to motivate, teach, and train students and employees in the chemical engineering domain.

To follow more updates on our research, check out and follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.

Photo credits: ABO PHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock.com


Further reading

  1. https://techjury.net/stats-about/video-game-demographics/#gref
  2. https://gameworldobserver.com/2019/08/26/eu-video-games-industry-2018-stats/
  3. Connolly, T. M., Boyle, E. A., MacArthur, E., Hainey, T., & Boyle, J. M. (2012). A systematic literature review of empirical evidence on computer games and serious games. Computers & education59(2), 661-686.
  4. Checa, D., & Bustillo, A. (2019). A review of immersive virtual reality serious games to enhance learning and training. Multimedia Tools and Applications, 1-27.

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