Video Games And The Education Impact

children playing games on a tablet

Written by: Ashley Green (cehdcomm@tamu.edu)
Post date: July 12, 2018

It is an $18 billion industry. At least one person in more than 60 percent of households is considered a frequent gamer. For Dr. Sam von Gillern, that is reason enough to focus on the use of video games in education.

“We want students to learn, and if games can help them learn by promoting motivation, engagement and ultimately learning, then we should use games as much as we would want to use anything that is an effective learning facilitator.”

Dr. von Gillern’s passion for using games in education was developed during his doctoral program at Iowa State University. His interests in literacy and learning caused him to think about how people learn through digital technologies. As a lifelong gamer, he has years of experience discovering how games facilitate learning. One morning, he woke up and knew where he wanted to focus his research - studying reader response theory in relation to video games. 

Reader response theory recognizes that readers’ reactions to books are a critical feature of reading processes, and thus, readers’ responses in conjunction with texts are what make reading experiences unique for each reader. Dr. von Gillern thought that if people interpret books differently because of their own background and personal experiences, then they are also likely to interpret video games differently.

“What makes video games more interesting for me is that they go beyond what a lot of traditional forms of media do. When you play a video game, you make decisions in that game. You decide what types of items to pick up, which path to take. This decision-making really adds a whole new element to video games from a reader response theory perspective.”

Gamer response and decision framework

Drawing on research from psychology, education and literacy, Dr. von Gillern developed the Gamer Response and Decision Framework. The GRAD Framework recognizes that a gamer’s decisions are a vital component to gameplay experiences. It is a tool for understanding how people interpret, make decisions and learn during video gaming experiences which then affects how the game unfolds for each gamer.

For Dr. von Gillern, video games are a learning experience where people interpret symbols, experiment with the controls and digital environments, and then learn from their experiences to guide future actions in the game. These processes can help scholars in learning and digital literacies find human patterns of thought, symbol interpretation and action in a particular context.

“I want to have students play games, analyze games and analyze their own learning experiences. When we have them engage in that, we have them engage in metacognition. Metacognitive learners, learners who think about their own thinking and learning processes, are often better equipped to succeed in academic and future contexts.”

Games can play roles in all classrooms, from language arts to math and science. One example is the popular game Minecraft. In literacy, students can analyze how characters and stories exist within the game. In math, students can use the game to study area measurement and volume. In science, they can learn more about minerals used as building materials in the game.


“I hope that we can draw students, particularly those students who are disillusioned or disengaged with other things that are going on, and recognizing that what they do outside of school is important. I want to analyze these experiences. It’s important to bring something that the students care about into the classroom. We can do students a favor by using video games as a vehicle for student engagement, motivation and learning.”


From fear of the unknown to concerns about violence, Dr. von Gillern understands why not all educators have been receptive to his ideas.

“Teachers who don’t feel comfortable with something - whether it be technology, video games or some sort of tool in the science lab - if teachers don’t feel comfortable with it themselves then they are less likely to use it in their own classrooms,” he said. “No piece of media in and of itself is necessarily good or bad, it’s what you do with that media that matters. Video games can be problematic, but we can also learn something through analysis and critique, the same way that we analyze or critique different historical events or historical portrayals in a movie or a book.”

Dr. von Gillern hopes that, as he continues his research and learns more about the impact of video games in the classroom, more educators will see the value in bringing something popular with children into the classroom.

“It always depends on the purpose. It always depends on careful integration, but with any game, there are opportunities for integration. It depends on the educator’s goals and resources. It’s important to think about ways the game can facilitate a skill teachers want the students to learn. Whether it be math, cultural analysis and critique, or something else entirely - anything can be integrated as long as thoughtfully done so.”