Can Video Games Help You Learn?

By Katy Ward
April 29, 2014
Can Video Games Help You Learn?

Video games: are they just for fun or are they important tools for learning? How do video games relate to religion? While most people would say video games are simply for fun, Dr. Mark Hayse, professor of Christian education and MNU Honors Program director, says they are important tools for learning. He’s currently researching ways video games can be viewed from a religious perspective.

“Video games have been a lifelong fascination of mine; I played them as a child and I continue to be curious about video games and their design,” Hayse commented.

Hayse explained that there are very few scholars who have studied video games from a religious perspective. Most who have conducted studies on video games have analyzed the media effects of video games, education and games, and cultural studies. They look at what video games say about race, gender, politics and power.

“I think this is a great opportunity to merge my passion and interests with my teaching,” said Hayse. “When I’m teaching my classes, I want to find out if there are people who are as interested in video games as I am.”

Hayse currently teaches “Understanding Video Games” and “Games as Learning Systems.”

“I wish that there was an interdisciplinary program about video game design,” adds Hayse. “I feel value that can be added through video game related classes and I think that there would be a lot of students who would be interested.”

Hayse says his Understanding Video Games course is set up exactly like a video game, such as World of Warcraft. While his course is modeled after a game like World of Warcraft, he created his own game for the coursework.

“All the students began the class with an avatar and specific roles,” he said. “The students played the game forming guilds, as well as exploring the class content. The students were able to be as successful as they wanted; they could earn experience points and were able to level-up after achieving a specific number of points. Many students had way more points than they needed for an A+.”

Can Video Games Help You Learn?Students testing their board games during class.

Hayse’s “Games as Learning Systems” explores two questions: how do games teach and how do gamers learn?

“Gaming is built into life. They teach you how to create short and long-term goals; they are essentially motivation machines,” Hayse explained.

When one thinks about it, games are designed to help people learn through failing rather than achieving.

“When you play video games, you constantly fail but continue to play anyway,” he said. “You want to get to the next level so you play and fail, all while learning how to improve the next time you try.”

Hayse says educators should take advantage of the way video games teach people. Video games are designed so that everyone starts out at a level with zero points. The player can then work as hard as they want to go as far as they want.

“Classes are the opposite of video games,” said Hayse. “Once you get a bad grade, students can’t really make up the points. Video games, on the other hand, allow you succeed even if you fail multiple times.”

“Games as Learning Systems” is set up to allow students to learn how to design board games. The students spend the entire semester writing an extended paper on how they put together their board game with a theory related to education.

“This class is unique because the students don’t learn how to improve until they play their board game and then find all the problems with it,” Hayse said. “The class is related to a term called ‘iterative.’ This means to go through revision after revision. Once the student tests their game and finds all the problems, they are able to gather the correct data to create a better game.”

Can Video Games Help You Learn?Dr. Mark Hayse playing games with his students.“It’s a very fun class. It’s not just all fun and games; there is a lot of learning how to take games and use them as education,” commented Blake Owings, freshman youth and family ministry major. “We learned a lot about how games can teach us different skills.”

Creating a culture within his classroom where failure is fun is his goal because he says failure breeds strength and improvement.

“Making a board game is not easy! This class taught me that as long as you keep trying, you can be successful. Even if you mess up multiple times, you learn more from those mistakes than if you were to make it perfect the first time,” said junior ministry major, Ian Perry.

Hayse constantly finds ways to relate video games to a religious perspective.

There have been many religious video games such as Adam’s Venture, Super Noah’s Ark 3D, The Axys Adventures: Truth Seeker and many more. Hayse added that many of the games do not seem to capture a wide audience and the current religious games have only adapted the design of current secular games.

“My question is whether there is anything is unique to faith that has not been introduced to video games and could that aspect be an added aspect of video games,” Hayse said.

A game about ethical reflection or creating a mystery for player to experience are a few ideas he has tossed around.

“The heart of religion is not only a relationship with God, but seeking after what has yet to be revealed,” explained Hayse. “I would like to see a religious video game that has a ‘concealed mystery,’ which would keep people interested in playing the game in order to find out the mystery.”