A Reflection: Video Games in the Classroom and a New Kind of Literacy

     In recent years it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that the standard of public education in the United States has been drastically slipping. Many theories and explanations have been created to help remedy this problem. Is this due to the lack of funding? Or maybe it is the lack of rigorous standards? Perhaps the popular culture of instant digital media and video games are to blame? Many current thinkers in the realm of education are starting to believe the opposite. Yes, video games and digital media have had an effect on our students, but that effect is not necessarily negative. Because of modern technology, students think and learn differently than they used to. This fact has been largely ignored in the past, but with rapidly slipping test scores, this won’t be the case for much longer. There are many reasons why video game literacy is underrated, but many prominent thinkers have come up with many concrete reasons why video game literacy should be incorporated into classroom learning. This reflects the fact that video games can be used as a teaching tool, and in today’s 21st century, it is not only an option but a necessity.

            To many, the word “literacy” simply means the ability to read and write; however in the 21st century, this word is taking on a whole new meaning (Felini, 2013). The word “literacy” includes any type of human communication and learning; this includes digital mediums (Felini 2013). Reading is a necessary skill for survival in a modern world, but reading is no longer confined to books, magazines, and newspapers (Gee, 2012). Young adolescents are now reading on many different mediums from television, to computers, digital books, smart phones, and game systems. Because of this many people believe that the use of video games in the classroom can help bridge a student’s home and school life. After all, there is a whole new “school system” developing outside the classroom walls (Gee, 2012). This school system includes the ways adolescents and young adults learn to navigate and master their technology and digital media. Technology is changing, and it is no longer something we turn on and off. Everywhere we go we are bombarded by digital media. This is the realm of digital media that is constantly educating and shaping its participants nearly twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week (Gee, 2012). Incorporating popular culture into today’s curriculum rather than censoring it out can be a great advantage to modern education (Felini, 2013). Through this we can teach students in ways we know they identify with and take to very easily. Still, this doesn’t change the fact that the idea of using video games as learning tools is still not widely accepted (Felini, 2013). It is no secret that many adults, parents and teachers alike, blame video games as their children’s source of violence, lethargy, lack of imagination, and lack of personal interaction (Prensky, 2001). Many educators even blame students’ lack of attention on their immersion in modern technology (Prensky, 2001). Is this really the case?

            It would be wrong to say students learn any worse today than they did in the past because of video games, however it would be correct to say children learn differently (Prensky, 2001). The science of neuroplasticity can show us exactly how our digital culture has shaped our brains (Prensky, 2001). Every day, brain cells are constantly being renewed and reorganized; persistent use of and exposure to digital technology affects this process (Prensky, 2001). In the words of Dr. Bruce D. Berry of Baylor College of medicine, “different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures” (Prensky, 2001). This is not necessarily a bad thing. Technology hasn’t shortened our students’ attention spans, but it has given them a different cognitive structure (Prensky, 2001). The instructional periods in many classrooms today include slow, step-by-step, logical, and methodical memorization of raw bodies of facts or processes (Prensky, 2001) (Gee, 2005). Because modern students are raised amidst constant exposure to technology, they have developed a new, parallel cognitive structure (Prensky, 2001). This means that students’ brains favor a quick-paced, rapid-response, learn-as-you-go style of learning (Prensky, 2001). Even anthropology can support this theory. People who grow up immersed in different cultures have been shown to not only think differently but to think of different things all together (Prensky, 2001). This is because different cultures have different beliefs, values, and practices. If we consider technology a separate culture in and of itself, then those who are fluent with digital mediums think differently and about different things than those who are not fluent with modern technology (Prensky, 2001). Both neuroplasticity and anthropology have shown us the need for video game learning in the classroom, but how specifically can students learn from video games?

            Whether or not it is commonly accepted, not all video games are violent or vulgar (Felini, 2013). There are numerous ways students can have the opportunity to learn through the use of educational video games. Students can become creators. They can create their own characters, plots, themes, audiences, and purposes (Felini, 2013). Doesn’t this sound a lot like story writing? Students can become analyzers. Just like written texts, students can analyze games for their themes, values, and stereotypes in greater depth than just reading words on a black and white page (Felini, 2013).  Video games can teach students about history, civilization, language, numeracy, mythology, collaboration, and problem-solving (Gee, 2012). For example, the game “World of War Craft” teaches its player how to strategize; “Portal” teaches its player how to problem-solve; “Full Spectrum Warrior”, based on United States Army simulation, even teaches its player the necessary skills to become a professional soldier (Gee, 2005)(Gee, 2012). When educational video games are based upon concrete, modern, scientific research concerning learning and cognition, the possibilities of what students can learn through video games are endless (Gee, 2005). So why are so many educators and schools still so reluctant to adopt video games as a digital media tool for learning?

            Many schools and teachers argue that modern technology is expensive and difficult to acquire (Felini, 2013). On top of this, teachers must also learn how to master this technology (Felini, 2013). Even more plainly, many students have grown up immersed in technology whereas many teachers have not (Prensky, 2001). The invalidation of digital literacy occurs because of a cultural bias of those who did not experience it all their life (Prensky, 2001)(Felini, 2013). It is an all too common occurrence to hear teachers blame students’ lack of attention span on their daily video game use. For those who do not use this sort of technology themselves, it is easy to see how they have come to this conclusion. As students began playing more video games over the years, they have become more and more bored in school. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that students can’t pay attention anymore. What it does mean is that outdated teaching techniques are no longer effective for children who think and learn differently. Despite this, digital media and video games are an important aspect of students’ lives today (Felini, 2013). Today’s students are living in a modern world, and they need to be prepared to live in this 21st century (Gee, 2012).  Video game literacy will not replace traditional forms of literacy such as reading, writing and arithmetic, however it will be used as a tool to supplement these traditional forms of literacy.

            The topic of video game literacy is a controversial issue in schools today. Should students have to learn the way their parents learned? Or should educators and schools begin to tailor their instruction to the changing brains and thought processes of today’s young adolescents? While the debate may continue for years to come, this issue will not go away. Our world is becoming increasingly technological and digitized. Many may still argue that students are doing worse in school because of video games. Traditional thinking tells us that constant exposure to rapid-response technology deprives our children of personal contact, imagination, wholesome entertainment, and physical fitness. Cutting edge educators however, believe that this same technology can be used to education’s advantage. Video games can teach children to do more than shoot guns and drive cars recklessly. When used in conjunction with science and educational theories, video games can teach our students whatever we choose.


Felini, Damiano. “Video game literacy: Exploring new paradigms and new educational

            activities.” MedienImpulse. n. page. Web. 24 Jan. 2013.


Gee, James. “Digital games and libraries.” Knowledge Quest. 41.1 (2012): n. page. Web. 24 Jan.

            2013. <http://ehis.ebscohost.com/eds/detail?vid=4&sid=6cfd2589-28ad-48dc-813e-


Gee, J. P. (2005). What would a state of the art instructional video game look like?. Innovate:

            Journal of Online Education, 1(6), Retrieved from



Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. MCB University Press, 9(5).

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants: Do they really think differently?. MCB

            University Press, 9(6).

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