How You Can Use Games to Make Learning Easier
Good games are good because they support learning in a way that empowers the player. They make it hard (but possible) to do what you want, and let you struggle, giving just enough to reward you for your effort.
But maybe you're saying, "These are just games. They don't translate to the real-world." Actually, they do it you approach them the right way.
Take Halo 2, a classic multiplayer first-person shooter. In order to succeed in online play, you had to predict what other players would do. One common tactic was to wait until just after you'd made a kill to attack. You would be in the middle of reloading and low on shields, so you were very vulnerable.
To deal with this, I developed the habit of scanning over both shoulders right after a fight, moving in a distinctive pattern.
Then, when I started studying for my upper belts in Kenpo, my instructor introduced the idea that after a fight, I'd be vulnerable and an easy target. As soon as I realized that, I automatically started using the same scanning technique, which is actually taught in Kenpo, but I didn't have to learn it all over again. I just translated it from Halo 2 to self-defense.
I had learned the habit, in a nearly identical context and with identical results for failure and success, from playing the game.
Now, I didn't set out to learn that from playing the game; I was motivated to play for other reasons. It just happened to be the kind of behavior that the game rewarded.
So, if you are trying to learn a skill, think about the kinds of games that can help you master it.
- Athletics, dance, or martial arts have rewarding goals that are easier to achieve with good fitness, so you get fit automatically to play well (if you're invested).
- Music itself offers similar rewards to gameplay: you can play any notes you want, but only the right ones will sound good.
- Various board games teach a variety of skills, from basics of capital (Monopoly) to communicating via pictures (Pictionary). Chess is well-known for its many benefits, from visual tracking to imagining the future to maintaining composure under stress.
- Card games, especially poker, are known to teach people-reading and self-control as well as risk-assessment and planning.
The key is to actually seek to learn from the game, not just to win it, and to commit to getting good. If you approach a game as pure distraction, it loses its value.
For a brilliant example of stealth learning in a game, check out Machineers. This game is designed to teach procedural logic (programming-think for the rest of us) without being blatantly educational. It's won several awards; it's also simply fun.
What skill could help you perform better? Brainstorm some games that might help you master it and share them in the comments.