Why game-based learning?

By Kip Glazer, Assistant Principal at LCHS

Because of the position I hold as the chief disciplinarian at the high school, I often receive a surprised look from students and parents when I share my passion for game-based learning. When I tell them about using a physics-based game like Portal for a science class or using a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) like World of Warcraft or League of Legends to improve literacy and numeracy among high school students, many are still somewhat surprised by the knowledge that I have about them. So when given the opportunity for me to share an innovative instructional strategy, I jumped at the chance to share my passion for game-based learning.

The level of interest in “gamification” of education, or better defined as game-based learning, has grown in recent years. Judging by increased media coverage, innovative educators are interested in using games to enhance student learning. Researchers have long argued for the educational potential of digital games based on their capacity to provide students with multiple opportunities of “trying, failing, revising, and retrying various tactics and strategies” (Chen, 2012, p.4-5). As a result, many educators use popular digital games like The Sims, Civilization IV or Minecraft to teach students both the academic contents and practical skills.

Game-based learning, by definition, is an instructional strategy that embodies the ideal of growth mindset (Deweck, 2006). Games often create a structure that rewards not only the players’ effort but also the acquisition of winning strategies. They are designed to address the concerns that Dweck had when the concept of growth mindset became popular. In her 2015 interview with the Education Week, Dweck stated, “Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort” (p.20). She argued, “Too often nowadays, praise is given to students who are putting forth effort, but not learning, in order to make them feel good in the moment” (p.21). Rather than leaving it to chance, a well-designed game pushes a player to spend their time and effort to level up. In other words, gamers learn how to grind by playing games for hours.

Although digital games can be a highly effective teaching tool, maximizing the benefit from game-based learning requires a more nuanced approach. I am certainly not advocating that all parents and teachers allow their students to play video games indiscriminately. In fact, I would suggest leveraging a variety of games rather than simply focusing on digital games. As a classroom teacher, I often used card games or board games that fascinated all the students to communicate and collaborate. Vasquez (2003) discovered that many children acquired sophisticated literacy and numeracy skills while playing Pokémon cards. She described a conversation she was having with a six-year-old child who was able to conduct a complex calculation while balancing a creature’s resistance points and potential damage points without being overly intentional about his calculation (Vasquez, 2003). Another game that I used is a board game called Puerto Rico. It is a sophisticated resource management game that teaches the students the benefits and limitations of international trading and colonization.

Game-based learning goes beyond playing digital games in the classroom, especially when considering the issue of digital divide in different educational settings (Compaine, 2001).  Game-based learning is more than turning one’s class into a game by awarding badges instead of grades. Effective game-based learning requires the proper use of appropriate games and game mechanics to help students become producers of new meaning (Gee, 2007). Therefore, game-based learning needs to include game creation and game mechanics that build student skills in collaboration, communication, and creation.


Compaine, B. M. (2001). The digital divide: Facing a crisis or creating a myth? Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chen, M. (2012) Leet noobs: The life and death of an expert player group in World of Warcraft. New York: Peter Lange Publishing, Inc.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Incorporated.

Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the growth mindset. Education Week, 35(5), 20-24.

Gee, J. P. (2007) What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Seyfarth, A. (2002). Puerto Rico [Board Game]. New Mexico: Rio Grande Games.

Vasquez, V. (2003). What Pokémon can teach us about learning and literacy. Language Arts, 81(2), 118-125.