Smartphones Can Change the Game in Catching Up Gen Z

Statistically speaking, one out of two of you is holding a phone right now. And if you’re not, you’re likely about to, as most mobile users check their phones 63 times a day.

Smartphone Usage: Going (and Growing) Strong

From texting to social media to streaming Netflix, the functionality of phones make it nearly impossible to put one down. Over this past year, the prowess of digital technology served as our tether to maintaining an education, connecting with loved ones, and even receiving healthcare. And if they say 21 days make a habit, try 365 of them. It’s safe to say, smartphones will remain snug in the palms of our hands.

According to techjury:
• There are 3.5 billion smartphone users in the world today
• Americans spend and average of 5.4 hours on their phone a day
• American teens spend an average of 9 hours a day in front of screens, and more than 7 of those are spent on mobile phones.

Another study reported that electronic device usage nearly doubled among U.S. kids during the pandemic.

chart on phone usage during COVID

Gaming is a Good Thing

So just what are our kids doing on their phones all day?

According financesonline, 75% of Gen Zers selected smartphones as their device of choice for everyday use, with 58% reporting playing games as their favorite pastime. That’s a lot of game time. The COVID-19 lockdown played a big part in this, of course, as mobile gaming helped serve as the universal antidote to the just-as-contagious side effect of the virus, boredom.

Games just may be the unsung hero over this past year, as they influenced our kids positively in different ways. Gaming makes us more competitive, for example, which means better problem-solvers. They can also enhance critical thinking, and expand our community beyond our four walls with those with similar interests.  

Take Pokémon GO, where users navigate the real world using an in-game map that allows them to visit “PokéStops”. While the app may appear to play to the wanderlust, one recent study’s findings reported respondents feeling more social, and expressed more positive emotions with increased motivation to explore their surroundings.” This reflects the opposite of the stigma associated with video games, in part, because these are mobile.

Mobile games can go where parents and educators can’t: Everywhere our kids go. So with learning loss at an all-time high due to the pandemic, maybe it’s ok that our kids are looking down at their phones, if they’re playing games that can teach them something meaningful … especially the ones that encourage them to play with a hire purpose.

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.