The Unprecedented Growth of Game-Based Learning

By the end of this year, there will be 79.6 million digital gamers in the US, or more than half of our population. Industry growth is accelerating thanks to heavy engagement of younger gamers (ages 13 to 17), 90% of whom classify themselves as gamers, and prefer video games over any other form of digital media, including music, videos and social media. 

Game-based learning is expected to be one the fastest-growing gaming markets, driven by the need to improve student education post-COVID. Considered an active learning technique, students are motivated and engaged in game-based learning because it’s unique, and the immediate feedback that learners and educators receive as a result is an important feature that both learners and educators benefit from more quickly than traditional methods. 

One of digital games’ most cognitively significant features includes simulations that allow students to get a firsthand experience with material. According to research, it’s better for students to come into direct contact with the reality they’re studying, instead of just reading, talking, and listening about it. We remember up to 90% of what we say and do, provided we are actively involved in real activities related to imitating experiences.

Additional benefits of game-based learning include: 

  1. Motivation: Students are the main characters in the story and their success is rewarded with medals, extra lives, bonuses, etc, holding their interest in learning.
  1. Opportunities to practice: Students can apply the knowledge they acquire without getting into dangerous situations, ie; flight and navigation simulators
  1. Quicker response times: Researchers at Rochester University reported that games improve troubleshooting skills by posing time-sensitive problems.
  1. Teamwork: The Institute for the Future reports that games boost teamwork in problem solving.
  1. Creativity, focus and visual memory: The University of California has found that games stimulate these aspects by setting goals that require concentration, imagination and remembering details to achieve them.
  1. Strategy and leadership: According to Pittsburgh University, video games put players in command, honing their abilities to resolve disputes, interact with other players and make decisions.
  1. Critical thinking: Monterrey Institute of Technology published an article underlining the underlying ethical, philosophical and social basis of these games, and their ability to make players think and improve their critical thinking.

Bain’s analysis forecasts that global revenue for games could grow by more than 50% over the next five years, suggesting that developers are banking on evidence that gaming will take consumers’ time from other forms of media and be the foundational platform for both other media and non-media experiences. 

Additionally, advancements in game engines are making it easier to develop higher-fidelity games, becoming a key development platform for other entertainment experiences, and improvements in 3-D graphics that transfer to applications in other industries such as healthcare, advanced manufacturing and construction.

Considering game-based learning is just in its nascent stages based on most recent, post-pandemic circumstances, this means we can expect not just schools to embrace this medium for learning and training, but industry as well.

What’s one of your favorite digital learning games? We’d love to hear from you.

Tech Times | Exclusives #50: Skillsgapp CEO Tina Zwolinski – Who doesn’t wanna be a Skillionaire?

Skillsgapp’s CEO Tina Zwolinski discusses how Skillsgapp transforms manufacturing and cybersecurity career awareness, access to job pathways and corresponding skills development into fun, engaging mobile video games. Watch or listen here.

The Best Gameplay Style for Skills Development

Single-player? Multiplayer? …or a Bit of Both?



When it comes to gameplay, “single-player” and “multiplayer” may sound like opposing categorizations—and yet they can actually describe the same game. This post will cover the basics of both single-player and multiplayer game modes, ultimately explaining how a blended style of play is perfect for skills-based mobile gaming that gets the next generation to “lean in” to career pathways at a young age.

Before we move on to that perfect blend of game modes, let’s first take a look at what it means for a game to be single-player or multiplayer. These two terms probably sound self-explanatory, and, simply put, they are: a single-player game allows for just one player in the game environment at a time, while a multiplayer game is designed to host more than one. However, as obvious as that distinction might seem, there’s no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to either of these categories. It turns out that the mixed space in the middle combines the best of both. 

Keep reading to find out not only how these different modes can work together but also why that’s crucial for skills development. 


Multiplayer games

A multiplayer game can look like Among Us or Fortnite, in which your experience is fully determined by the presence and activity of other players. In the cases of these two games, the term “multiplayer” makes sense for even the most uninitiated gamer: you control your character while other people control theirs, and you either work together or work against each other. Seems simple enough, right?

But not every multiplayer game sees you running around the environment with other players in real-time. A multiplayer game can also look something like Words with Friends. It relies on alternating gameplay, so Player A might make a move at 2PM, and Player B might not respond until 2AM. Even though a turn-based game like Words with Friends doesn’t guarantee the synced presence of two or more active players, it’s nevertheless considered multiplayer, because people are playing directly “against” one another.


Single-player games

Meanwhile, a single-player game can be something like digital solitaire or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Although they differ drastically, they share a commonality: it’s just you, the person in control of the screen, making decisions and implementing changes in the game. Again, seems simple.

Then you get a game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s primarily called a single-player game, but it also includes a feature to invite distant users to your island. When two or more players connect virtually through this feature, they’re hosted in a multiplayer function of a single-player game.


Blending a single-player focus with multiplayer features

That idea of mixed modes—specifically a single-player game with multiplayer features—hits a sweet spot for mobile games geared toward skills development and career growth. Here’s how:

1. Self-measurement. Your experience and success during a level don’t depend on other players. This independence accurately represents your skills and what you’re learning (not what your playing partner knows), which maintains the integrity of skills-based gaming.

Why this matters: The absence of direct multiplayer meddling ensures the credibility of meaningful badging, leaderboard stats, and more.

2. Competition. Regardless of the lack of real-time competitive or cooperative gameplay in single-player, players of a blended game are nevertheless connected through contest and not left entirely alone. With a single-player game that contains multiplayer features like a global leaderboard or weekly competitive challenges, players can see how they stack up against the rest of the field without actively playing with or against another person.

Why this matters: Thanks to multiplayer features, despite solitary gameplay, players can still feel connected to something beyond their own experience and be inspired and pushed by a sense of competition.

3. Pacing. The game is always right where you left it when you need it, because simultaneous play isn’t necessary. You don’t have to wait for other players to join, and you’ll never feel slowed or rushed through gameplay and content.

Why this matters: The blended approach allows players to work through levels at their own pace, which is crucial for learning (and measuring that learning).

4. Flexibility. Short on time or patience? A base game mode of single-player guarantees that you’ll never get locked into a match. The portable, versatile essence of mobile games means that sessions can be played practically any time—anywhere—and the time-agnostic nature of this single-multiplayer blend gives you further freedom to play when and how you need to.

Why this matters: For a game targeting our up-and-coming workforce (that is, an audience of middle and high schoolers), flexibility is key. When the school year gets hectic, players need to be able to pick up a game and put it down quickly, and they can do that easily with single-player rounds.



The best of both worlds for skills development

In short, playing a single-player game containing multiplayer features means that your work is your own and your enjoyment of the game doesn’t rely on strangers, yet the stimulation of outside competition isn’t lost in the absence of “live” multiplayer rounds. For games focused on developing skills and fostering careers, this combination of the independent play of single-player and the competitive environment of multiplayer really does bring together the best of both worlds.


What is your favorite game mode or style of gameplay?

Site Selection Magazine – Fully Enrolled: Esports and Video Game Programs Power Up on Campus

By Adam Bruns The digitizing of the economy is pervasive, whether you’re performing quality control in an automated manufacturing plant; undergoing a medical procedure; operating a container crane at a backed-up West Coast port; launching fabrication of a 3D-printed prototype; or putting the finishing touches on a breakthrough architectural design.

Could using our own digits, senses and synapses in the pervasive playing of video games deliver a competitive advantage to a world hungry for IT skills, systems thinking and interdisciplinary creativity? Video game development and competitive esports programs at colleges and universities around the world are counting on it. Read More.

Gen Z Busts the Myths of Gaming – 3 of 3

By Beth Ann Townsend, Narrative Designer at skillsgapp //  

Video Games Teach Empathy & Other Hard-to-Teach Skills

Ready to bust some more gaming myths? The second blog in this series combats outdated and unfounded fears of video games by highlighting their universal nature, cooperative space, and potential for skills development. This third installment looks to similar positive traits in a demonstration of video games’ power over the mind and heart as a force for good. 

The incomparable firsthand experiences that video games generate can put players from any background into new circumstances, facilitating the formation of critical social-emotional skills (and global awareness, like I talk about in the last blog post). Video games allow people to interact “firsthand” with concepts, places, and times they otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience, from the streets of modern Hong Kong to the rooftops of Renaissance Venice. We can see the wider world on a very personal level while moving through a story in someone else’s shoes, defying the limits of wherever our own feet can take us. Games have the power to spark conversation, induce awareness, and share a diverse range of voices. 

Social-emotional skills and gaming

It’s why educators are advocating for specially designed video games that teach empathy: “Perspective-taking through player agency drives empathetic thinking.” Games put their audiences in the driver’s seat and provide active engagement with the material, distinguishing playing video games from the more passive experience of watching a video. Because the player has an impact on the game environment to varying extents, and because the player is taking on a new point of view, they are in an ideal position to learn and empathize. 

Indeed, a game designed by University of Wisconsin-Madison for middle schoolers was found to improve empathy in young learners. In this game, Crystals of Kaydor, players assume the role of a crash-landed robot and must successfully identify the emotions of aliens in order to find a way home. Researchers discovered that the kids’ social-emotional skill development through the game actually changed neural connections in their brains. “The realization that these skills are … trainable with video games is important,” lead researcher Tammi Kral says, “because they are predictors of emotional well-being and health throughout life and can be practiced any time.”

This is a big deal. We’re finding that not only can games engage kids with each other, allow them to realize their own creative and intellectual potentials, and meet them wherever they may be; games can also prepare the next generation for the workforce by equipping them with “hard-to-teach” skills. These include soft skills like collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking, as well as social-emotional skills like the abilities to relate with others, make appropriate decisions, maintain awareness of other people’s emotions, and understand one’s own thoughts and feelings.

Professor Matthew Farber (Assistant Professor of Technology, Innovation, and Pedagogy at the University of Northern Colorado) underscores the importance of such skills in his article entitled Teaching Empathy With Video Games.” He calls them “21st-century competencies that students should possess.” Farber poses the question of whether or not playing video games can make children better aware of their own emotions and become more sensitive to the non-verbal behavior of others, and he concludes his article by saying yes, yes they can. As a result of playing games like Crystals of Kaydor and practicing social-emotional skills, students will be able to “compete and innovate in today’s interconnected, global economy,” Farber says.  

Games, empathy, and the next workforce generation

When the player has the ability to make choices in another’s shoes—when they can witness something firsthand and feel like they have a personal stake in the matter—then they can take ownership of their experience and find themself relating to different persons and places. They’re practicing empathy. In games like that, students can exercise the developing parts of their brain, thus making themselves world- and workplace-ready, prepared for tomorrow’s challenges intellectually, socially, and emotionally. 

What hard-to-teach skills do you think every student should learn before high school graduation?

Gen Z Busts the Myths of Gaming – 2 of 3

By Beth Ann Townsend, Narrative Designer at skillsgapp //  

Video Games Are Preparing Our Next Workforce for Global Leadership

In the last post—the first installment to this series—I talk about how video games have the power to bring people together. They disregard distance. And because of that, video games are also able to bridge the gap between cultural differences large and small, creating truly global communities. What’s more, the collaborative nature of video game production ensures endless teachable moments and exposure to diverse perspectives beyond the bounds of the game. Playing video games and developing them can help students learn about themselves and others while picking up skills that will prepare them for a career in any field they pursue.

high schoolers working on a game

The global impact of video games on under-resourced students 

This past April, Rochester Institute of Technology’s international game prototyping course gave students the chance to collaborate in a virtual cultural exchange program and establish commonalities despite cultural differences. In that same month, the U.S. Department of State announced the conception of a video game diplomacy program, which seeks to connect almost 3,000 students from the US, Bahrain, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates. The exchange program will bring under-resourced teens from Detroit, Atlanta, and New York City into partnership with Middle Eastern students for the united purpose of developing social impact games. In a conversation with The Washington Post about the program, Marie Royce, who has served as Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs since 2018, says that “young people have something in common[:] … They play video games. … It’s important to have initiatives around gaming [because] it’s an opportunity to give everybody a chance to have an exchange.” 

These recent efforts to utilize the universal medium of games build upon previous initiatives like Digital Play for Global Citizens, a publication from Sesame Workshop and the Center for Global Education at Asia Society. Digital Play for Global Citizens introduces a “vast landscape of digital resources … and suggests some innovative ways to nurture our young learners into macro-minded citizens.” In this increasingly connected world, our up-and-coming workforce must be prepared to answer questions and resolve issues that span the globe, and video games have proven to be effective tools for teaching students collaborative and inclusive practices.

students playing on phones

Game development promotes skills development

Cultural exchange projects help to promote peace, growth, and understanding, and through the State Department’s Game Exchange program (in partnership with the nonprofit Games for Change), Royce hopes to foster diplomacy while also building essential skills in students here at home, no matter their income level or personal identity. She addresses the future of Gen Z, stating, “In creating video games, people develop tremendous skills…. [They’re] able to think critically [and] develop STEM skills and … leadership skills.” Collaboration, communication, and compromise are essential to video game production, as creators must work together to realize a cohesive vision, but those soft skills aren’t all that young leaders can grow. Like Royce says, game development gives students the chance to practice math, art, logic, storytelling, coding, and more, because it’s a cross-section of so many different disciplines—disciplines that are needed in the wider world right now.

Gen Z has entered the game, championing diversity and inclusion

In order for the U.S. to ensure the success of our next generation of leaders, workers, and creators, we need to advocate for inclusivity and big-picture thinking alongside the hard skills that get so much attention in schools. Video games—as illustrated by the RIT virtual exchange course, the U.S. State Department’s Game Exchange diplomacy program, and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s Digital Play for Global Citizens—can “promote global citizenship,” let us explore new “boundaries, borders, and geography,” and help us all develop “empathy and understanding of diversity.” Game development encourages cooperation with others near and far at the same time it teaches critical skills. 

As the president of Games for Change, Susanna Pollack, explains to The Washington Post, video games can transcend mere entertainment and “be significant drivers of social impact,” because they are not confined within any one nation for any one kind of person. “Like other forms of media,” Pollack continues, “games can address important social topics and meet people where they are”—whether that’s in a high school in the USA or one in the UAE. By bringing together people across the globe and empowering students with new skills and knowledge, video game diplomacy programs are achieving a unique blend of civic engagement and practical application that illustrates the versatility of games and their positive impacts around the world. 

What talents would you like to see more of in the workforce right now? Collaboration, inclusion, STEM skills, global citizenship…?

NBC 4 Los Angeles: BeatNic Boulevard Video Game Feature with San Bernardino County Superintendent Ted Alejandre, October 27, 2021

San Bernardino County Superintendent Ted Alejandre – NBC 4 Los Angeles – BeatNic Boulevard Feature

Video game developer Skillsgapp transforms skills and behavioral development into free-to-play mobile gaming technology designed to engage, educate, and entertain middle and high schoolers.

The Tobacco Prevention Toolkit was developed by Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Stanford REACH Lab at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Using free content from the Tobacco Prevention Toolkit, the game was developed to teach students in grades 6-12 basic refusal skills, share important tobacco prevention messaging and encourage activities in their schools and communities that can foster local policy change. This approach would work to address health disparities among vulnerable populations and reduce tobacco and vape use.

Changing Behavior Through Video Games Comes Down to These Four Things

As mobile video games gain greater reach and sophistication levels that deliver more realistic, entertaining, and challenging experiences, unprecedented narrative is being incorporated into gameplay that influences players’ behavior in meaningful ways. As we leverage this preferred medium to prepare our next generation for meaningful careers in previously stigmatized industries within manufacturing, including life sciences, cyber/IT, aerospace, and auto, many behaviorists agree on incorporating these four disciplines into gameplay to affect change.

Four In-Game Disciplines that Can Change Behavior in Gen Z

1. Motivation

Self-determination theory identifies three primary psychological needs that drive most behaviors: 

• the need for competence, or a feeling of effectiveness at completing tasks

• the need for autonomy, or the sense of freedom to choose one’s own behavior

• the need for relatedness, or of feeling tied to others through relationships and shared values.

These basic needs tend to motivate behavior in an individual, independent of extrinsic rewards. By design, video games check each of these boxes via challenges that can be repurposed with increased difficulty, directly promoting and improving desired skills development, which can make workforce readiness a lot more rewarding…and fun.

2. Reinforcement

In contrast to intrinsic motivation, video games can also use extrinsic rewards to reinforce desired behaviors, including task-noncontingent rewards, and rewards of glory. The former can consist of kudos and likes from other players in the game, or by in-game mentorship from industry and educators, all of which promote feelings of relatedness and autonomy. Rewards of glory consist of points, achievements, badges, or animations, and can support competence needs by providing feedback and shareable bragging rights. 

3. Personalization

Gen Z is more likely to devote cognitive effort and attention toward an activity they perceive to be personally relevant. By tailoring game narrative to align with their values, game designers — and industry — can persuade players in a way other forms of persuasion may not. Creating game characters a player identifies with, or by casting the player themselves as the main character is one way. Another way is to incorporate desired goals into the game narrative. As an example, BeatNic Boulevard is a new simulation-style, free-to-play mobile game where students in San Bernardino County, California — in collaboration with Stanford University’s Tobacco Prevention Toolkit — learn the importance of living a tobacco-free lifestyle. As students play the video game, they learn and recognize the impact of tobacco-use, vaping and how the sale of these products negatively affect schools and communities, eradicating false perceptions perpetuated by the tobacco industry.  

4. Proteus Effect

The Proteus Effect represents the experience of embodying an avatar in a virtual environment, which affects multiple aspects of cognition and behavior of the player. Being in a virtual world allows users to control many aspects of their appearance they cannot easily change in the real world, allowing a player to “try things on” in an arena void of stereotypes. This is especially powerful in breaking down stereotypes within trade-specific careers.

Mobile Gaming is a Viable Skills-Training Medium

The number of active mobile gamers worldwide is over 2.2 billion today. As industry, states, and regions look to grow their workforce-ready talent pools, mobile gaming should be at the top of their list as a proven, customizable training and recruitment tool that can scale to reach this entire next generation.

What skills development or behavioral change would you like to see incorporated into mobile games? Comment below.

Gen Z Busts the Myths of Gaming – 1 of 3

By Beth Ann Townsend, Narrative Designer at skillsgapp //  

Video games build community

Dark basement. Empty chip bags. One guy staring at a bright screen, maniacally pressing buttons on a controller. I don’t know when or how this stereotype got started—much less reinforced—but at some point it came to represent the quintessential “gamer.” Nowadays that perception is changing as old fears are dismissed and more people recognize the value of video games. 

In this blog series, we’ll bust some still lingering gaming myths by exploring and correcting misperceptions about video games and the people who play them, specifically our future workforce, Gen Z. There are already plenty of articles written by professional research teams and scientists detailing how games can improve manual and mental dexterity, teach problem-solving skills and creativity, relieve stress while stimulating the brain, inspire players of all ages, introduce educational topics, and—maybe most importantly—foster community, so I’ll share something only I can: my own experience.

Family game nights: generations of memories

Video games have always been important to the members of my family, even my grandparents. 

My Papa Donald had a squeaky SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), and sometimes all six of us grandkids could be found piled in his living room squeaking away, collectively trying to beat Donkey Kong Country. It was a similar thing with my Pop Pop and the King’s Quest point-and-click adventures: for years my sister Addie and I spectated his gameplay while consulting the cheat book on his behalf. 

Then there was my dad and Luigi’s Mansion. Terrified of the ghosts, my sister and I solo-played only rooms that my dad had already cleared. But the fun for me didn’t come from saving the day as Luigi; it came from spending time with the two of them.

With my mom, our game was Animal Crossing. She’d catch bugs, I’d fulfill the American dream of paying off a mortgage. We also used to write each other in-game updates despite sitting right next to each other. There was something special about communicating through such a unique medium.

As a kid, I didn’t know that all these little moments with my family would matter—these moments that games created—and yet we were reinforcing our relationships with every press of a button.

Plugging in to stay connected

My sister and I are now 20 and 22, respectively, so we’re on the upper end of Gen Z and have grown up playing games like so many others our age: games on the TV, computer, DS, iPad, and now mobile phone. By gaming, I’ve stayed close to my sister through college to today. She and I bond over video games that champion the story. For example, Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines was our Christmas break go-to, and throughout my last semester of school I played Dishonored for her via Discord’s screen-sharing feature. It’s become clear to me that games are a powerful means of making and preserving memories. They let us stay connected no matter the distance, and that’s been particularly important this past year.

Our story isn’t unique, especially not amongst the younger half of our generation who started early with mobile games. Games have always linked people together, and with the advent and popularity of online and mobile gaming, they’re now able to achieve that person-to-person connection on an even broader scale. Because 90% of Gen Z is engaging with mobile gaming, chances are high a large percentage of your future workforce is playing and connecting right now.

Games, fellowship, and friendship

Gaming isn’t a lonely hobby. I don’t think it was ever intended to be. Game nights are some of the most vivid memories I have with friends, from zooming through Mario Kart Wii in middle school to scrambling around on Overcooked! in college. Yeah, maybe at times we were in a dark basement eating chips, but we were all there with each other, laughing and shouting and building upon our friendships, practicing cooperative skills and making our time together last. Ultimately, it’s not just about the games; it’s about the communities they strengthen.


Do you have a favorite video game from childhood? If so, I would love to hear about it below
!

Beth Ann Townsend recently graduated from Washington & Lee University with a double major in English and Classics, a combination of interests she’s excited to bring to skillsgapp. She’s always loved telling stories, solving problems, studying what has been, and imagining what could be. Now a narrative designer at skillsgapp, she can puzzle out the best ways to marry the “what” and “why” of the game with the “how,” working alongside a team that’s dedicated to uplifting our next workforce generation