Digital Gaming

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Digital Gaming

Lori Powell, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Definitions and background

Digital games, both commercial and educational, continue to grow in popularity in the education field (Iacovides, Aczel, Scanlon, & Woods, 2012; Panoutsopoulos, 2009; Pelletier & Oliver, 2006). They are a favorite form of play for twenty first century students (Tsai, Yu, & Hsiao, 2012) and vary in computational complexity (Papastergiou, 2009). Digital games have many qualities that align them with cognitive development theories such as situated cognition, interactional cognitive development and schema theory (Neville, Shelton, & McInnis, 2009). Elements of digital game design also align well with constructivism and constructionist learning theory (DeGrove, Bourgonjon, & Looy, 2012). Digital games operate within a multimedia environment (Cheng, Lou, Kuo, & Shih, 2013) where users interact with multi-modal texts and graphics (Iacovides et al., 2012).


Digital games can provide a virtual environment where students are not limited by physical space or hands-on access to learning materials (Busch, Conrad, & Steinicke, 2013). The creation of and engagement in digital gaming can allow for active generation of knowledge rather than passive consumption (Li, 2012). Li (2012) reported on the development of 21st century skills and enhanced understanding of curriculum when students actively engaged in digital game play and digital game creation. Sardone and Devlin-Scherer (2010) additionally asserted that digital games “offer cognitively complex situations” (p.421) that engage users in 21st century skills. The skills of “critical thinking and problem solving, teamwork and communication, creativity and innovation, and technology proficiency” (Sardone & Devlin-Scherer, 2010, p. 421) can be taught through digital gaming.

Digital games can prompt discussions and encourage storytelling as users identify with key gaming situations (Busch et al., 2013). Complex situations in digital games provide opportunities for users to assume roles and engage in critical thinking activities (Sardone & Devlin-Scherer, 2010). Ott and Pozzi (2012) reported increased ability of students to problem solve and “figure out original solution strategies” (p. 1015). Digital games can have a positive impact on users’ understandings of real-world situations (Yang, 2010; Panaoutsopoulos & Sampson, 2012) and immediate digital feedback can allow for deep processing of embedded content (Erhel & Jamet, 2013).

Digital gaming is an effective and motivational approach to encourage student knowledge creation (Papastergiou, 2009). Erhel and Jamet (2013) found that students implemented successful learning strategies when engaged in digital gaming and were “less frightened of failure” (p. 164). Neville et al. (2009) found that when students engaged with digital games for learning a second language, they perceived learning to be “fun and challenging, current with times and technology, and adaptable to student input” (p. 419). Digital games can significantly improve knowledge of embedded subject matter and increase student enjoyment and interest with content (Papastergiou, 2009). Students, both male and female, are equally motivated to learn when engaged in digital gaming (Papastergiou, 2009).


Many digital games require a huge investment of time (Busch et al., 2013; Yang, 2010). To accomplish a learning task through digital game play, students require more time on task (Cheng et al., 2013). Yang (2010) found that it took students approximately six months of engagement with digital games for any substantial improvement in problem solving ability. Teachers spend hours developing digital skills before using games in the classroom (DeGrove et al., 2012). Digital games need to be carefully introduced into the curriculum and instruction may have to be designed exclusively for digital game implementation (Neville et al., 2009). Papastergiou (2009) observed frustration from research participants who did not receive adequate support for digital gaming.

Digital games can distract students from the learning process (Neville et al., 2009). Instructions presented as entertainment “induce less efficient information processing strategies than learning instructions do” (Erhel & Jamet, 2013, p.164). Neville et al. (2009) observed that students do not see digital games as a learning environment to be explored, rather digital games are seen as a place to play and collect points. Playing motivation negatively impacts student motivation to learn new knowledge in a digital game (Tsai, Yu, & Hsaio, 2012). Also, some digital games do not allow students to practice creative problem solving as there may only be one solution strategy to the game (Ott & Pozzi, 2012).

Teacher readiness, interest, and perceptions of digital gaming can negatively impact its integration into curriculum (Sardone & Devlin-Scherer, 2010). Students’ perceptions of digital games and interest in using a computer can also impact game use and its learning effectiveness (Cheng et al., 2013). In comparison to traditional methods of teaching, digital games do not increase student academic achievement (Yang, 2010). Panoutsopoulos and Sampson (2012) concluded that digital gaming is equally effective as non-gaming for increasing student achievement in mathematics.


Digital Games Research Association

Digital game-based learning: It's not just the digital natives who are restless by Richard Van Eck

Digital games for learning: Conclusions and recommendations from the IMAGINE project

Digital games in schools: A handbook for teachers

Kurt Squire on Civic Engagement through Digital Games (Big Thinkers Series)

Works Cited

Busch, C., Conrad, F., & Steinicke, M. (2013). Digital games and the hero’s journey in management workshops and tertiary education. The Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 11(1), 3-15.

Cheng, Y., Lou, s., Kuo, S., & Shih, R. (2013). Investigating elementary school students’ technology acceptance by applying digital game-based learning to environmental education. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 29(1), 96-110.

De Grove, F., Bourgonjon, J., & Looy, J. (2012). Digital games in the classroom? A contextual approach to teachers’ adoption intention of digital games in formal education. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 2023-2033.

Erhel, S., & Jamet, E. (2013). Digital game-based learning: Impact of instructions and feedback on motivation and learning effectiveness. Computers & Education, 67, 156-167.

Iacovides, I., Aczel, J., Scanlon, E., & Woods, W. (2012). Investigating the relationshiops between informal learning and player involvement in digital games. Learning, Media and Technology, 37(3), 321-327.

Li, Q. (2012). Understanding enactivism: a study of affordances and constraints of engaging practicing teachers as digital game designers. Educational Technology Research and Development, 60, 785-806.

Neville, D., Shelton, B., & McInnis, B. (2009). Cybertext redux: using digital game-based learning to teach L2 vocabulary, reading, and culture. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 22(5), 409-424.

Ott, M., & Pozzi, F. (2012). Digital games as creativity enablers for children. Behavior & Information Technology, 31(10), 1011-1019.

Panoutsopoulos, H., & Sampson, D. (2012). A study on exploiting commercial digital games into school context. Educational Technology & Society, 15(1), 15-27.

Papastergiou, M. (2009). Digital game-based learning in high school computer science education: Impact on educational effectiveness and student motivation. Computers & Education, 52, 1-12.

Pelletier, C., & Oliver, M. (2006). Learning to play in digital games. Learning, Media and Technology, 31(4), 329-342.

Sardone, N., & Devlin-Scherer, R. (2010). Digital games for English classrooms. Teaching English with Technology, 10(1), 35-50.

Sardone, N., & Devlin-Scherer, R. (2010). Teacher candidate responses to digital games: 21st century skills development. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(4), 409-425.

Tsai, F., Yu, K., & Hsiao, H. (2012). Exploring the factors influencing learning effectiveness in digital game-based learning. Educational Technology & Society, 15(3), 240-250.

Yang, Y. (2010). Building virtual cities, inspiring intelligent citizens: Digital games for developing students’ problem solving and learning motivation. Computers & Education, 59, 365-377.