Video Games

I have mixed feelings about video games. I remember when an Atari home game system was *the* Christmas present to get. We’d sit for hours and watch each other blast asteriods with a little carrot shaped symbol or watch a “ball” bounce back and forth across the screen in Pong.

There were many a day during high school that I spent in an arcade, making the most of the $1 I had to spend. I honed my skills playing Galaga so well that, decades later, I can still inspire awe in young kids when I hit Level 17.

And, let’s not forget college and Tetris. That, I can now admit, was pure addiction. No need to say anything more.

Still, a comraderie existed as people would gather around a tall box and cheer one another on as we shot down aliens or munched dots on a screen. We’d share secrets on how to beat levels and even go to the library and read books on video game strategies. It was fun.

When I consider video games of today, I get the appeal. The sophistication of the graphics and the storylines blow me away. But, the shear number of hours that a kid can play every day troubles me.

So, I love when I stumble upon inspiring ideas, like what Terry Heick shares with using video games to teach with.

Take his suggestions for harnessing the learning potential with Sid Meier’s Civilization V game. What better way to bring geography and history alive than through this turn-based game that relies on problem-solving, communication skills, collaboration, and understanding principles of resource management and the impact of geography on political tactics. It’s the ultimate in exploring what-if historical scenarios.

Heick doesn’t stop there. He also suggests exploring language arts concepts, such as irony and tone, with elementary and middle school kids in games like Portal 2. Take a look at his articles at TeachThought and get inspired.

The key to actually making this work is to play the games with your kids – or at least spend some time watching them play – so you can actually be part of the conversation. I don’t think taking out a workbook to fill in the grammar blanks, or even assigning an essay analyzing the military tactics of Genghis Khan, is really what’s going to engage a kid, but I’d love to hear what you’ve done and how it’s worked for you.


You can study M.C. Escher and Japanese wood cut prints in video games? You betcha. Smithsonian American Art Museum: The Art of Video Games explores the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium. It features some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology and focuses on the interplay of graphics, technology and storytelling, from early pioneers to contemporary designers.

Upcoming exhibit schedule:

  • Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, NY, February 15, 2014–May 18, 2014
  • Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio, June 19, 2014–September 28, 2014
  • Flint Institute of Arts in Flint, Michigan, October 25, 2014–January 18, 2015
  • Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, Tennessee, June 6, 2015–September 13, 2015
  • The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, October 9, 2015–January 25, 2016


The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) gives parents a general idea about content and the age appropriateness of video and computer games.

EC Early Childhood games are suitable for ages three and older. Titles in this category contain no material that parents would find inappropriate.
E Everyone games are suitable for ages six and older. Titles in this category may contain minimal violence, some comic mischief and/or mild language.
T Teen games are suitable for persons ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violent content, mild or strong language and/or suggestive themes.
M Mature games are suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain mature sexual themes, more intense violence and/or strong language.
AO Adults Only games are suitable only for adults. Titles in this category may include graphic depictions of sex and/or violence. Adults Only products are not intended for people under the age of 18.
RP Rating Pending games have been submitted to the ESRB and are awaiting final rating.

How are you using video games to reach your reluctant learner?

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