Gaming the students

Thomas Holt Russell
3 min readOct 1, 2019

Using Video Game Popularity to Advance Education

Half of all American adults play video games. Ten percent of those adults call themselves gamers. That number rises exponentially if children and teenagers are added to the calculations.

Educational institutions have not been standing by idly while millions of students turn to interactive video games as their primary form of entertainment. But education’s slow, but study switch to gamification is not always a planned goal. Many educators are moving towards gamification on the fly. They are finding out that textbooks are no match for rapidly changing technology. Traditional ways of learning are no longer valid, and students (as well as everyone else) love the challenge and social interaction that digital gaming provides.

It makes sense that video game elements, combined with educational pedagogy, will be worthwhile to try. There are already millions of video game players around the world. Many of these players already have the skills it takes to learn a topic in a meaningful and resourceful way. Most experts agree that adding more test and the old pass/fail method of education is not meeting the needs of students or meeting workforce needs.

Gamification is not the same as game-based learning (GBL). According to Karl Kapp, a professor at Bloomsburg University, for gamification, the instructional strategy is infused to accommodate game elements. There are as many explanations about the difference between game-based learning and gamification, but I have found a simple account posed by the Website:

Game-based learning (GBL) is training that uses game elements to teach a specific skill or achieve a particular learning outcome. It takes your core content and objectives and makes it fun.

Gamification is the application of game mechanics in a non-game context to promote desired behavior and drive learning outcomes. Think points, badges, leaderboards, and incentives.

According to reading Alsawaier, an instructor at the Intensive American Language Center at Washington State, gamification could provide a remedy for students that are not benefiting from conventional instruction. Alsawaier further states that gamification places emphasis on critical thinking skills as well as allow social interaction, highlight learning elements (such as rewards), storylines, and quest. Gamification promotes learning overall.

Quest to Learn (Q2L), a middle and high school in New York, uses a game-based approach to all of its teaching and learning. Q2L’s gamification approach has replaced textbooks with online, game-based learning. Their entire learning process is a game.

Colleges recruit gamers by offering scholarships for students to compete in gaming squads. Some gaming arenas have dozens of gaming monitors, customized chairs, latest tech gear. At one University, Robert Morris University, receive scholarships for up to half the cost of tuition.

According to the numbers, the switch towards gamification should benefit African Americans. Pew Research estimates that 83% of black teenagers play video games, compared to 71% of Whites and 69% of Hispanics. In spite of this number, there is a substantial racial gap in the multibillion-dollar gaming industry and a lack of African Americans receiving gaming scholarships for college. However, the switch to gamification may help African American students in the long run, as gaming reaches a higher percentage of the population, and the educational benefits start to emerge in the coming years.

The rapid advanced of technology in the past 30 years has forced us to examine our fundamental approach to education, which has remained stagnant in comparison for the last 100 years. Our daily interaction with technology and the accompanying, ever-increasing dependence can be used as a positive springboard to make learning just as intrinsic as our desire to use new technology. Making learning intrinsic is a good thing for all of Americans, as we struggle to make our way to the top of the worlds academic achievement pinnacle.



Thomas Holt Russell

Founder & director of SEMtech, Writer, educator, photographer, and modern-day Luddite and Secular Humanist. My writing is