Games That Teach vs. Games That Change

Educational gaming isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. There are those that teach curriculum, and then there are those that change behavior. You learn from both, but the user experience can be profoundly different from one another, and their reach arguably disparate. 

To better understand this difference, let’s first look at a game that aims to teach. 

Teaching In Gen Z’s Digital World

Gone are the days of the ‘rot-your-brain’ video game mindset, and schools have made great strides in using games such as Minecraft: Education Edition as a teachable medium. Minecraft explains that “Educators visiting the Minecraft: Education Edition community site will find existing lesson plans on pixel art, grid paper to plan student work, and even a Minecraft world set up as a blank canvas for students to engage in creative expression.” 

Kim Bennett, a teacher in Cherokee County, Georgia, uses Minecraft to teach business to her students. She says, “Students collaborate in a Minecraft world to actually build and create their businesses—restaurants, food trucks, factories, sports facilities, to name just a few.” 

This is an innovative move in finding meaningful ways to connect kids with career-centric curriculum in a classroom. And while video games in school aren’t new, they’re use has been accelerated as the pandemic persists. 

But what about outside of the classroom? 

The New World of Gaming

Gen Z is influencing the gaming world in a big way and they are vastly different in this space than their predecessors. For one, the majority of Gen Z, 98%, own a smartphone, and much of their gaming behavior is mobile, rather than tethered to a computer or console. And contrary to the stereotype of gaming as an isolating activity, Gen Z doesn’t game to be alone; they actually game to be with others. This generation has grown up in a socially broader digital world that allows them to form online communities inside of school, and out.

So as we look at those teachable skills needed outside of the traditional reading, writing, and math, like soft skills, mobile gaming opens up a new set of opportunities to reach our future generation outside of the classroom via a medium they’re already engaging in, not “having” to engage in. 

Games That Change

Curriculum and class dynamics drive the user experience in games like Minecraft: Education Edition. And while the learning experience may be more appealing than a textbook, work still comes first, fun second.

In games that change behavior, gameplay takes the lead and curriculum second. Look at the globally popular Pokémon GO, for example, where users navigate the real world using an in-game map that allows them to visit PokéStops to gather items, battle other users’ Pokémon, and to catch Pokémon using augmented reality. And while the app may appear to lead a wild goose chase,  one recent study’s findings indicate “that the surveyed players changed their behaviors while or after playing Pokémon GO. The respondents reported being more social, expressed more positive emotions, found more meaningfulness in their routines, and had increased motivation to explore their surroundings.” Well, guess what? Those align with 21st century skills every school district is also tasked with teaching: Work Ethic, Socializing, Strengthening of Social Bonds, Better Self-Treatment, and Collaboration. And with bragging rights of over 55 million installs in 2019, the size of that “classroom” is pretty astounding.

The Future is Edutainment

Games come in all different types and categories, coining a new umbrella term,   “edutainment”, defined as “the English neologism that indicates the forms of playful communication aimed at teaching.” And while educational games like Minecraft: Education Edition are powerful in a classroom environment for math, history, science, language art, and visual art, they’re still not enough as our skills gap continues to rise to a global talent shortage that might reach 85.2 million people by 2030. Games like Pokémon GO, if intentionally designed with the right balance of fun and faculty, can accelerate the development of soft skills that educational games don’t focus on. Those, paired with academic knowledge, can propel Gen Z much further. 

With both types of games at play, it’s safe to say that edutainment adds up to a big win when it comes to preparing Gen Z to be the future workforce that ushers us into the modern era.