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Video-games offer a wide range of benefits to the individuals and groups that play them. While entertainment is a common focus, they also offer opportunities for creativity, engaging the imagination, developing social and collaborative skills as well as strategic thinking.

Combine this with a safe and sensible approach to gaming and it's a pursuit that has a lot to offer in a number of different areas.

Imagining New Worlds

The nature of video-games enables players to not only watch but participate in different imaginary worlds. This can be based around a fantastical storyline or perhaps from the basis of an educational puzzle. How ever the environment is presented, it's interactive nature is particularly good at turning the player from a consumer into a participant in the story.

Many games use their worlds to encourage other creative activity. This can offer the opportunity for players to tell their own stories and create their own levels, as is seen by the wide range of game creator modes in different titles. This can be via a built-in crafting mechanic that requires the player to make something before proceeding, or sometimes produce creative output as you progress in the main game that can then be shared with friends and family.

While most of the action is on the screen, younger players will often take this activity to the living room carpet for continued play once the game has been switched off. Also, games with a sports theme encourage players of all ages to engage with the activity in question both in terms of understanding tactics and rules as well as playing the sport themselves in real life. This can be a useful way of introducing more niche sporting activities to a wide audience.

Develop New Skills

Another benefit of video-games, as outlined in our research pages, are the skills they develop in the player. In addition to the primary hand-eye co-ordination and reflex development the social and interactive nature of games means they encourage a wide variety of other skills.

Many games are multi-player with participants sharing the same play-space. Players work together (or against each other) in teams to achieve specific aims. Here games develop a range of social skills such as collaboration and turn taking. Because of the entertaining nature of these experiences, skills are often learned without the player feeling that they are being "educated". This light touch enables games to encourage skill development on a number of levels without feeling heavy handed.

Additionally, competitive games require players to acquire highly developed strategic thinking skills. As a particular game becomes more difficult with each level the related educational benefit also developers further. Starting with a simple premise, in this way video-games can develop nuanced skills at a pace the player is comfortable with.

For example the recent Doctor Who game from the BBC uses a game structure to teach a variety of programming and logic solving skills. In a similar way Make It: Technobabble develops visual layout and design skills along with general game making techniques and physics logic.

Educational Results

While games offer many beneficial side-effects, some titles focus specifically on an educational objective. This can range from teaching very young players the basics of counting to sophisticated experiences that teach key STEM subjects like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Because games reward the player with an enjoyable experience while at the same time challenging them to revisit and develop knowledge further they are an ideal vehicle for a variety of subjects. This is often most effective when the video-game mechanic (how you interact and progress in the game) matches the learning aim of the lesson.

Many schools (like Oakdale Junior) use familiar games as a way to engage students in particular subjects. Dawn Hallybone, a teacher at Oakdale explained how this worked for them. “Off the shelf games enable children to be immersed in rich environments - that can promote writing, speaking and listening skills, team work, maths, science skills in fact skills across the curriculum. Children do not necessarily expect to see this in the classroom but they are rich with learning potential.”

Ukie run a series of educational programs like the Mayor of London funded Digital School House  which teaches children computer science using games. In addition the Video Games Ambassadors scheme, a volunteer network from the gaming industry, educates children to inspire them for a career in the games industry.

Whether granting access to imaginative worlds, developer key skills or delivering education, video-games offer a wide range of benefits.

Next post: All About The Cultural and Financial Impact of Video-Games

Avatar for Andrew Robertson
Andrew Robertson
Andy Robertson is the editor of AskAboutGames and has written for national press and broadcast about video games and families for over 15 years. He has just published the Taming Gaming book with its Family Video Game Database.