Following on from his earlier post on gamification and student engagement, the Teaching and Learning Centre’s Mark Baltovic talks briefly about some of the interesting results emerging about video games and student development.

gamers using computers

In my Summer Term blog post, I discussed the potential for education from gamification – the application of elements of game design and mechanics to non-game contexts. The lessons that can be learnt from successful design and implementation of games for entertainment purposes can also help us to design effective learning ‘games’ (for example, see the School’s Learning Technology and Innovation group for some examples). Indeed, these ideas, based on the analysis of the motivations of participants, can be applied to the design of classes, courses and even programmes (something which the Teaching and Learning Centre will explore in a number of workshops in the coming academic year).

Here, the successful realisation of learning outcomes is the result of deliberate game design and implementation. However, there is a growing body of research that shows that even games designed purely for entertainment can have impressive, and significant, educational benefits for players. So much so that some in higher education are starting to explore the use of ‘non-educational’ games within their curriculum.

For example, in the real-time strategy science-fiction game Starcraft, players choose one of three distinct factions (each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses) in a ‘war’ that is played on a two-dimensional map. Unlike turn-based strategy games like chess, the action occurs in real-time, and can require players to be constantly monitoring not only battles and skirmishes, but the building and deployment of units to such engagements, as well as the in-game gathering of ‘resources’ to build more battle-units. The concept of “actions per minute (APM)” in gaming refers to the total number of actions that a player can perform in a minute, via keyboard and/or mouse, with seasoned Starcraft players recording well over 400 APM (i.e. just over 6 actions per second!)).

As well as a certain degree of nimbleness, gameplay therefore demands a high level of focus, responsiveness and multi-tasking, and it is therefore not a leap to consider what developmental effects this might have on players. Indeed, studies have shown that such games can have an effect on higher-level cognition and neuroplasticity; that is, such games can positively contribute to the development of learning and cognitive flexibility.

recent study by the University of Glasgow considers the potential impact of game-based interventions using a broad range of games that were chosen in order to exhibit, collectively, a number of different game traits including direct combat, role-playing, puzzle-solving, cooperative play, resource management and creative design. The results show a positive impact on ‘graduate attributes’ – skills and competencies generally deemed to be desirable in graduates including social communication and interaction skills, problem-solving skills and cognitive flexibility.

These, and other studies, show that non-bespoke games might have a useful role in higher education. For example, the use of the online roleplaying games to explore ideas of law and democracy in online communities, or to develop cultural sensitivity and competencies in working across cultures. Of course, games need not be digital to deliver such benefits, and board games have been used to support the development of general (i.e. non-discipline specific) cognitive skills as well as interpersonal skills, for example at Sheffield Hallam University.

Game-based teaching and learning is something the School is already exploring, with both the Teaching and Learning Centre and our partners in Learning Technology and Innovation ready to discuss and share ideas further. If you would like to be informed about these events (or related events both inside and outside the School), drop us an email at to be included on our mailing list.



  1. Glass, B. D., Maddox, W. T., & Love, B. C. (2013). Real-Time Strategy Game Training: Emergence of a Cognitive Flexibility Trait. PLoS ONE, 8(8), 1–7.
  2. Barr, M. (2017). Video games can develop graduate skills in higher education students: A randomised trial. Computers and Education, 113, 86–97.
  3. Cornock, C. (2015). Maths Arcade at Sheffield Hallam University: Developments made in a new space. MSOR Connections, 14(1), 54.


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