Do Free Games Have a Place in the Classroom?

Do Free Games Have a Place in the Classroom?

Presented for your consideration: the world’s easiest question. Would school-age children be more interested in their education if video games were involved? Yes or yes?

Earlier in September, Valve made its world-famous puzzle game, Portal, free to download for a limited amount of time. It’s Valve’s hope that the game will see widespread use in classrooms. After all, Portal‘s brain teasers revolve primarily around physics, and students tend to understand the complicated laws of gravity a little easier if they’re watching an illustrated example of physics at work, as opposed to sitting at a desk and memorizing a string of equations. The Portal games are also excellent for teaching mathematics and engineering concepts, as pointed out on Valve’s online pitch for using the titles as a teaching tool.

Video games in the classroom aren’t a new concept. There are schools across the United States that use Dance Dance Revolution as part of their physical education curriculum, and Japanese schools use the Nintendo DS and Brain Age for math and grammar lessons. But these are exceptions, whereas educational video games in the classroom would be beneficial if they were the rule.

Obviously, a widespread movement to make games a regular visitor in classrooms would take some generosity from console engineers and software developers. Valve started things off right by offering Portal for free, but that was a limited offer that expired on September 20. But imagine how beneficial it would be for kids if Nintendo expanded its Nintendo DS/Brain Age pairing to include classrooms worldwide, and not just in Japan. Math is typically a problem subject for many kids. Intimidation, coupled with difficulty embracing the basics, is no small part of the reason why. If kids were allotted some classroom time to solve some of Brain Age‘s basic equations (which requires them to do simple adding, subtraction, multiplication and division in their heads as quickly as possible), the familiarity of the Nintendo DS’s hardware would lower the intimidation factor of learning math, and would also supply excellent practice at sharpening their skills. Such a project would be an expensive undertaking for Nintendo (with any luck, it would be able to drum up support from school boards), but imagine being hailed as the game company that changed every schoolkid’s perception of mathematics for the better.

Of course, free games in the classroom shouldn’t be limited to the Nintendo DS and math problems. With tablets becoming a more common presence in classrooms, downloading and engaging in schoolwork via fun, free apps can be a snap. While Portal can teach kids about physics and problem solving, and while Brain Age can help them overcome their fear of math, there are other, less obvious subjects that can be of huge benefit, like any number of RPGs that demonstrate how to develop characters and tell a story (or, alternatively, how not to tell a story).

Schools around the world are gradually waking up to the realization that video games aren’t all about digital characters ripping off each others’ arms and beating innocents over the head with them, but gaming’s reputation could always stand to get a boost. If video games become commonplace in the classroom, it can only benefit developers, schools, kids, and the pastime of gaming itself.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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