Hurdles in educational uses of games

Firstly, it is fair to say that people like games. People throughout the world have created games by playing. However, recently video games and other electronic games have become the dominant form of gaming as digital devices have helped spread them all over the world.

According to a report, out of a total US population of 327 million, 214 million people play video games. This situation probably holds true for Japan and European countries, too.

So, why do people want to play games and get so excited about them? One theory suggests that when people solve something or accomplish a task, hormones are secreted in their brain to make them feel pleasure and happiness.

In real life, it is often difficult to notice whether tasks are accomplished or not. In games, however, challenges are visualized as beating a “last boss” or proceeding to the next stage. Therefore, it is easier to feel pleasure and happiness.

This could cause some people to get absorbed in games for extended periods of time. Actually, the World Health Organization (WHO) has defined gaming addiction as a disorder. In Japan, ordinances to restrict gaming have been established. In China and other countries, gaming has been restricted by law.

However, when people were forced to stay home owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO recommended gaming as recreation to reduce stress.

This indicates gaming can be both harmful and beneficial.

As one of these beneficial uses of gaming, teachers and researchers are exploring the application of games in educational contexts. Originally, the essence of gaming is to solve something or accomplish tasks, which is all about learning.

However, it is quite difficult to adopt games, especially digital ones, in education. There are mainly three hurdles.

The first hurdle is a social issue. This is because the view of games is often biased toward their harmful aspects.

The second is a financial issue. To play digital games, you need to buy a device or specific software. Some games require you to pay a charge to continue playing. This means it involves a financial burden for teachers or schools.

The last is a pedagogical issue. This is connected to the social issue. Because teachers are inexperienced in gaming, they have a poor understanding of games. Therefore, they do not know how to use games in education. In other words, teachers lack game literacy. Additionally, there are few reports on teaching methods or lesson plans using games for them to refer to. Finally, they have not been trained to use games. This is one major cause of the issue.

Inhumane gamification

Gamification has been a kind of a buzzword lately. People think this word means the effective use of games in business or learning contexts. However, this is a big misunderstanding.

Gamification is originally a word derived from marketing strategies, and it refers to the concept of attracting or controlling consumers by applying simple elements from games.

A typical example is an airline’s promotional program where mileage points are given to passengers based on the distance traveled. As another example, some conveyor belt sushi restaurants in Japan allow you to play a lottery game every time you finish five dishes, with the chance of winning a small prize.

With these systems, you can get some kind of reward for completing a purchase “quest” (task).

To apply this effect in schools, some teachers may say to their students, “Today’s quest is to do three pages of the workbook. I will give 10 XP to those who complete the quest.” However, this is just a rewording of “homework” to “quest,” and “grade” to “XP.”

Another shallow approach of using games is to allow students who have performed well in class for a week to play a game during the last class on Friday. However, this approach simply uses gaming as a reward.

When we control students like this, can we really say it is effective education or effective use of games?

If not, how could we use games effectively in education?

First, we should focus on the fact that many students today are interested in games, as I mentioned earlier. They are concentrating on playing games and enhancing their skills and knowledge on their own without being forced by their parents or teachers.

One theory considers these skills and knowledge as “gaming capital.” This means that the skills and knowledge they have accumulated by playing games can be turned into a kind of cultural capital.

As an example of cultural capital, those skilled in piano can use their skills to become a piano teacher and thus earn lesson fees. Likewise, game skills can also become capital.

For example, if you have advanced skills and knowledge of a popular game, you can be highly regarded and respected among your friends. Also, when you are in a position to teach your friends who have lower skills, you can build self-confidence and self-esteem.

Furthermore, in this day and age, where the same game is enjoyed globally, there are international communities built around games. If you are good at the game, you can interact with gamers around the world, expanding your network beyond your daily community of friends and classmates.

We should think about education that makes use of gaming capital and offers the opportunity for students to use their skills towards academic achievement.

Using the gaming capital of students

So, how should we actually use this gaming capital?

For example, I teach English in Japan. And, from my perspective, Japanese students have a good understanding of English grammar. However, I feel that they are generally not as good at communication and conversation using their English knowledge.

They do not learn aspects of the language not covered by grammar, such as jokes, colloquial expressions, and simple and casual words as part of their education. This makes conversation even more difficult for them, leading to a vicious cycle.

It is important that language learning is not only about memorizing grammar and vocabulary but also about familiarizing oneself with the culture of the language. And this can be acquired by living in the cultural sphere or regularly talking with native speakers. Unfortunately, many Japanese students seem to have little practice at these activities.

However, students with gaming capital can get an opportunity to join an international community around the game they play. For example, those who initially post only pictures may gradually start interacting using short sentences, which can often develop into more active communication and conversation.

These students can be a respected figure in an international community of a game originated in Japan. Once this happens, their English skills may dramatically improve.

I advise them to join such communities and facilitate their participation by creating a suitable environment, and so on.

Also, games are not only video games. There are various games derived from play. Interestingly, there is similar play in many countries, but it has different features depending on cultural spheres.

I think many people have heard that the rock-paper-scissors game is slightly different depending on the country. Japanese games like Daruma-san ga Koronda have similar variations in English-speaking countries, and they are slightly different from Japanese versions.

Playing the English version of Daruma-san ga Koronda in class can serve as a trigger to deepen understanding of English language cultural spheres.

Also, I sometimes use an excellent communication game called Werewolf in class. Students play this game in English while their conversation is recorded. After the game is finished, they listen to their recorded conversation and transcribe it. They correct their own communication mistakes, find better expressions, and use them in the next class.

This is quite a hard task for students. However, as it is mediated by a game, they can repeatedly complete it without losing motivation. After about six weeks, they are able to play the game smoothly in English.

To sum up, many students today are interested in games and developing their gaming skills. Therefore, it would be a waste not to use these skills towards their academic achievement and learning.

Conversely, if students are not interested in games, we do not need to use games. As an example, in my class a student who loves sushi joined an international sushi community. Pictures shared by this student made the community members happy, which motivated the student to study English.

In this way, I make use of students’ capital for English learning. Such capital can be used in different ways in different fields, whether it is mathematics, engineering, designing, art, or literature.

However, as I mentioned above, there are hurdles to the educational use of games. Therefore, teachers need to take an inventive approach.

To do this, teachers should not only seek students’ game literacy but also acquire game literacy themselves. This can be accomplished only by playing various games. In addition, they should also receive training on teaching methods using games.

If parents and teachers lack interest in or understanding of games played by their children, they will not understand what children are doing when they play. Thus, they will be unable to notice their children or students’ gaming capital and, as a consequence, deny students the ability to use this skill towards academic gains.

* The information contained herein is current as of June 2022.
* The contents of articles on are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

Information noted in the articles and videos, such as positions and affiliations, are current at the time of production.