What do games have in common with science? More than you might think.

Expert James Paul Gee tackles the issue in his article, “Games, Learning, and 21st Century Survival Skills.” The article is a bit dense but worth a read. Here’s the major good news: playing games is practice for scientific behavior.

If kids don’t know the controls for a game they will build theories by pressing buttons and observing the results. At its core this behavior is scientific method.

As gamers, these kids are seeking the most effective results. They’re also practicing awareness of their existence within a complex system—the game world.

Gamers and scientists both become familiar with models. Models, Gee says, “are simplified representations of reality.” A gamer familiar with building models and play-testing scenarios is by definition more prepared to form hypotheses and test results—to create experimental models.

In other words, getting the kids into Minecraft? Not a bad idea!

Some players take things to the next level and become part of the “modding” community—creating and customizing the content of games to suit their own modes of play. Modders think about the mechanics of a game. Gee calls this “design-based thinking.”

“What I mean by design-based thinking here is thinking about how various parts of a system (e.g., different sub-systems within a system) or different systems interact with each other.”

Think of it this way. If you’re playing Age of Empires, you’re not just thinking about the battle that you’re fighting. You’re also picturing the whole map. You might be considering where to move your army next and thinking about how the enemy will react. You’re always forming hypotheses, testing them, and then reacting.

This kind of thinking is exactly how scientists approach complex problems. Gaming and interacting with games prepares kids for scientific thought processes—and that’s awesome.

(Source: James Paul Gee)

This article was written by

Simone de Rochefort is a game journalist, writer, podcast host, and video producer who does a prolific amount of Stuff. You can find her on Twitter @doomquasar, and hear her weekly on tech podcast Rocket, as well as Pixelkin's Gaming With the Moms podcast. With Pixelkin she produces video content and devotes herself to Skylanders with terrifying abandon.