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COVID-19: How video games can add to kids’ learning during isolation

As the cold weather approaches and we look for indoor activities, video games are both fun and educational
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This article, written by Joe Todd, University of Waterloo, originally appeared on The Conversation and has been republished here with permission:

This year has brought many changes into our everyday routine. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to physically distance ourselves as much as possible, while masks and other public health measures remain in place in the outside world. The number of COVID-19 cases are rising in Canada and remain high in the United States.

Schools have reopened, with much debate as to whether or not they should to reduce the risk of transmission. As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, and we anticipate the arrival of a second wave, we’ll all be looking for activities to stay inside.

Gaming activities

As an online gaming scholar, I am devoted to highlighting the importance of online gaming in today’s society. I have shown the financial impacts and growth of the online gaming industry, as well as the social benefits associated with playing video games. In addition, I have discussed how parents can manage their child’s game time.

Online gaming can be a space for continued learning within an online environment, providing numerous benefits for players, all while keeping them indoors.

Keeping in line with existing curricula, I will highlight how five subjects can benefit from video games in the classroom: English, math, science, history and physical education. These games are meant as a supplement rather than a substitute to our existing school systems. Playing games can create a fun learning environment designed to keep our physically distanced selves at home, while remaining social and continuing to learn.

Literacy and language

A recent survey from the United Kingdom’s National Literacy Trust has shown that more than 35 per cent of children who play video games believe they are better readers; the study also found that more than half of the participants read and write materials related to gaming at least once per month.

I would argue that many video games have better narratives than the stories read in school. While picking the best story games is a subjective task (BioShock is a personal favourite, although it is rated M for mature players over 17 years old), I recommend interactive story games, which allow players to make choices that impact the rest of the game.

Telltale Games has a great collection of pop culture-based story games from Batman to DC’s Fables series all rated for teens or older.

Games encourage creativity and promote literacy: two qualities of an excellent English class.


Math is “the foundation of game design” — trigonometry, calculus and algebra all come into play when developing games. If students wish to create and develop their own video games, math will be essential to learn.

Prodigy Games provides free math games for students and schools designed to engage students with math. Designed for students in grades 1 through 8, these games have been found to increase test scores. Video games are “the perfect way to teach math” and can help engage children in developing their math skills.


Playing video games can result in numerous cognitive benefits for the online gamer. These benefits include positive effects on one’s basic mental processes like attention, perception, decision-making and memory.

Video games can also improve performances in jobs that require good hand-eye coordination and quick decision making. Video games have been found to improve performance in training for both pilots and surgeons.

There are many physics-based games, and I would suggest that students begin with the Portal franchise, one of the most popular games of all time. Pay close attention to Portal 2 and how the physics-based elements have been enhanced. The Portal games are rated E for everyone.


History can be taught by video games because they allow us to experience events of the past. Games like the Assassin’s Creed franchise (rated Teen or higher) allow players to experience historically accurate settings and interact with historical figures from the Crusades, Renaissance Italy, the French and American Revolutions, as well as Ancient Greece and Egypt. While the events within the games might not be historically accurate, developer Ubisoft is proud of the research that goes into their authentic settings.

A favourite of both scholars and gamers alike is Sid Meier’s Civilization franchise. Civilization (rated E for everyone) is a historical simulation game that has the player become a ruler of a historical civilization and strategically manoeuvre through the complex economic, political, technological, religious and cultural issues involved in building an empire.

While not completely historically accurate, these games can be an entertaining introduction to notable settings, people and challenges of the past.

Physical education

After sitting for most of the day, it is time to get active. Historically, Nintendo has done the best job of getting gamers up and active, with the Nintendo Wii Console, a motion-controlled system. The Nintendo Wii remains Nintendo’s most popular system of all time, with active games such as Wii Sports and Wii Fit being two of the top ten best selling games of all time.

Wii Fit has been used in the medical fields to improve balance training in both home and clinical settings.

Nintendo has continued to get gamers up and active with their latest fitness game Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch. The game is too new for scholarly review, however user and journalistic reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Ring Fit Adventure combines elements of yoga, strength training, cardio and pilates into a role-playing game. User reports suggest that it can have an impact on health and fitness, all while being fun and accessible. Both games are rated E for everyone.

Not a substitute

While I am not suggesting the replacement of the modern school system with video games, video games provide benefits that can supplement — and even enhance — what is learned elsewhere. As schools go online, and society begins to hibernate away from the cold and the pandemic, staying inside and playing video games will continue to provide learning opportunities, friendships and, most importantly, fun.

Class dismissed.The Conversation

Joe Todd, PhD Student in Recreation and Leisure Studies, University of Waterloo

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.