There’s a long-standing debate on whether video games are or are not harmful to the development of children and adolescents. While there are certainly compelling arguments being made on both sides, recent research highlights the positive educational benefits of video games on child development and their ability to teach STEAM skills in a fun and engaging way.
1. Video Games Require Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills
In most video games, even single-player ones, players compete to win. They will undoubtedly encounter obstacles and be challenged to develop solutions to stay alive or advance to the next level.
Whether navigating mazes, building cities, solving puzzles, or strategizing to develop the best battle strategy, players must analyze the situation, evaluate options, and make decisions based on their gaming experiences. This requires using key cognitive skills like attention, logic and reasoning, impulse control, working memory, creativity, abstract thinking, and more. In fact, a study of 2,000 children produced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that children who play video games perform better on cognitive tests than those that do not.
2. Video Games Inspire Creativity
Almost every game on the market allows players to customize their gaming experience. For example, when you first power on most gaming systems, you are tasked with creating an avatar or character to act on your behalf. This allows for creative expression akin to what’s experienced during arts and crafting projects. Thanks to modern-day technology, players are immersed in gaming worlds filled with stunning audio and visual effects while following a captivating storyline.
In addition to the artistic creativity they experience while video gaming, players are also given the opportunity to problem-solve in a creative way. They must think on their feet and try new approaches when encountering challenges throughout the game. This is even more challenging if the gamer plays a multiplayer game. In these games, they must collaborate with others and embrace a sense of teamwork that requires good communication, negotiation, and creative thinking with the other players involved.
3. Video Games Encourage Programming Skills
Certain video games, especially those that fall under the STEAM umbrella, are designed to emphasize puzzles, logic, and problem-solving, which promotes programming skills in a fun and engaging way. In these games, players must break down problems into smaller, more manageable steps, think algorithmically, and understand cause-and-effect relationships to succeed. Each of these skills is foundational to the study of coding and computer science.
Video games like Minecraft, Roblox, Portal, and more require players to learn sequentially and break down a problem into smaller chunks to see how the pieces fit together to form a viable solution. They then must think algorithmically and develop a set of well-defined steps to solve their problem using code.
Lastly, they must display keen attention to detail and a sense of patience and perseverance to successfully solve their issues. One small error could mean the code fails, and they must try again. When that inevitably happens, they must identify the problem, learn from their mistake, and try again.
These real-world applications are foundational STEAM skills that programmers and computer scientists use daily to create life-changing solutions to endless problems encountered in their line of work.
4. Video Games Often Require an Understanding of Physics and Math
Physics and math principles can be seen throughout the gaming environments. From realistic physics simulations that govern object behavior and motion to the intricate mathematical concepts required to produce life-like animation, video games leverage these principles to create an engaging experience to capture the attention of their audience.
Gamers also use these principles to manipulate objects and solve puzzles or other challenges. For example, suppose a player drives a vehicle during gameplay. In that case, they must have a decent understanding of physics to maneuver around obstacles like curves, objects in the road, steep hills, and more. If their turn radius is off or they don’t apply the correct force to the brakes, they will likely crash.
5. Video Games are Collaborative — Even If They’re Single-Player
A common concern surrounding youth playing video games is the fear of isolating themselves and not engaging in critical interactions with their peers. Collaboration and communication, essential aspects of STEAM education, are fostered by nearly all games, including single-player ones.
In many multiplayer games, players must interact with others and work together to achieve a common goal. This requires them to communicate ideas and problem-solve collaboratively through game chat, voice chat, or other means of communication.
Communication may be less evident in single-player games. Instead of interacting with peers or other gamers, players must successfully interact with virtual characters and complex environments to advance. Additionally, many individuals playing single-player games turn to online gaming communities when they need assistance solving complex problems, want to discuss strategy, or share their success stories.
Just like in video games, individuals in STEAM professions often work in teams to solve complex problems and create truly innovative solutions. This requires them to communicate effectively when sharing information and allow others to lend their expertise and perspective to arrive at a truly effective solution.
Ultimately, enabling students to engage in video games provides them with an opportunity to hone these vital skills, which prepare them for future success in collaborative team environments.
Minecraft™: A Video Game that Teaches STEAM Skills
The wildly popular open-ended sandbox-style Pervideo game Minecraft is beloved by educators for its potential to teach students STEAM skills in a highly engaging way. This game encompasses a wide range of disciplines, including engineering, architecture, and resource management.
The most outstanding feature of this multiplayer game is the collaboration needed to succeed. While playing, gamers tackle various team-based projects that require them to communicate effectively and problem-solve with their peers. This mirrors the interdisciplinary teamwork seen in STEAM projects.
Additionally, this video game fosters a culture of peer learning and mentorship. More experienced gamers often guide junior players and share their knowledge and experience. This is reflective of the knowledge shares that are vital to success and innovation in STEAM professions.
Minecraft is full of opportunities for players to refine STEAM and life skills, which is why educators enjoy using it in the classroom. But it’s not only educators who think this game is great; NASA does too!
Minecraft Artemis Missions
NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement partnered with Microsoft to create two missions for students: Artemis: Rocket Build mission and Return to the Moon mission. The Artemis Missions worlds allow learners to design, build, and launch a moon rocket. It can also use block coding or Python to pilot the Orion space capsule.
When asked about this partnership, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said, “NASA strives to reach the broadest audience and inspire the Artemis Generation to prepare them for the missions of tomorrow. Through our partnership with Microsoft, this new frontier in Minecraft reflects NASA’s priority of pushing the boundaries of exploration on the Moon, Mars, and beyond!”
If you’re interested in these missions, you can download them for free in the Minecraft Marketplace.
Learn More About STEAM Education from Space Foundation’s Center for Innovation and Education
Video games are a valuable way to promote STEAM skills and offer players the opportunity to practice important life skills such as teamwork, communication, and compromise in a fun and engaging environment.
By allowing students to play these games, we empower them to be adaptable lifelong learners who can navigate complex STEAM challenges in the professional world.
Center for Innovation and Education wants to support teachers and promote STEAM education. That’s why we offer unique programs for teachers, e-learning tools, and STEAM lesson plans for free on our website. We offer programs for students, young professionals, and entrepreneurs as well. Learn more about our mission to build the next generation of space leaders.