Video games have long caught flak from educators, but in recent years, there have been a lot of people talking about how video games could change education. There have been numerous attempts to “gamify” education by making certain aspects feel more like video games, and they’ve met with varying success. But there’s no doubt that video games are hugely popular with kids and adults, across cultures, languages, and income levels. Video games could help education be more appealing, but only if we use them well.

Pure gamification isn’t necessarily the answer, and overhauling the education system in any event will take years of work. But in the meantime, there are a couple of things about video games that we should maybe be thinking about.

They build on rewards instead of taking them away. Grading starts you at 100%, the best you can get, and then takes points away with each mistake. Eventually, thanks to the way numbers work, it gets harder and harder to make up for past mistakes. Video games, on the other hand, start you at 0, whether its completion, time played, or score, and you go up from there. They assume positive reinforcement from the start.

Doing things is a better way to learn than being told about them. Training pilots on flight simulators is so obviously better than just using textbooks, we’d be shocked to find a pilot who wasn’t trained in such a way. It stands to reason that applying math to real world (or virtual world) problems would make learning to think with that math so much easier. It would also teach students that it does have real world applications, something that is a lot harder to understand when you’re just copying down equations.

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