As any avid gamer knows, video games can have educational qualities. That’s not to say they all do, but generally you can pick up a little bit of knowledge from a good game. What’s always particularly interesting though is a game that’s actually built to educate. We see more of this these days thanks in large part to the mobile medium, wherein there are plenty of apps that teach trivia, exercise word and math skills, and so on.
Moving forward, it’s likely we’ll continue to see excellent educational mobile games being released. However, we may also be on the cusp of a new boom in games that expand our knowledge, thanks to virtual reality. VR gaming may not be the dominant force it was forecasted to become, but its immersive quality can be incredibly engaging with the right experience. And that same immersive quality might just make it easier for games to teach a wide range of skills and subjects.
A few hypothetical examples illustrate this point….
We might argue that history is the subject that drives the most educational attention in gaming as is. It’s not always direct, in that gamers aren’t necessarily quizzed on historical topics; in some cases, they probably don’t even consider themselves to be learning. When you think about it, however, there are plenty of games — from old PC strategy experiences, to modern mobile games and open-world console adventures — that expose us, at least semi-accurately, to various eras of human history.
One of the most recent examples comes from the Assassin’s Creed series. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey produces a lot of frustration when it comes to gameplay. There are some fairly tedious aspects to it that take away from the main story and much of the fun you can have along the way. As a piece of pseudo-historical immersion, though, Odyssey is remarkable. While there are certainly some fantastical elements to it all, you can’t help but feel that it transports you back to an idealised version of ancient Greece.
A similar experience in VR is remarkable to imagine, and it’s something that could make history more accessible and enjoyable to innumerable student gamers. Even without all of the adventure — and with more accuracy — the chance to explore historical settings and interact with historical figures in a first-person manner would appeal to many.
Some debate the notion that video games can help teach foreign languages. However, the more convincing argument are in favour of this sort of approach having some value. The Conversation delved into the research on the topic and came away mostly with positives, noting that video games incentivise quicker social skills and keep students from merely checking boxes (as language courses so often ask them to do). Additionally, there’s a case to be made that some popular language-learning apps, like Duolingo, have succeeded in part through mini-game functions.
Virtual reality could bring about a whole new type of language-learning game, however. Basically, it could simulate the experience of actually having to interact with foreign speakers or in a foreign environment. Gamers could be presented with challenges that force them to tap into what they’ve learned and apply language skills correctly. This would still feel a little bit like work, but with an enjoyable reward structure and clear game progression (or even multiplayer competition), it may well incentivise progress also.
The world always needs more electronics, and this is only likely to become more true as we move into a future of IoT-connected devices and smart technology. This may well mean more opportunity for people who are familiar with electrical engineering, which could turn this into a busier category for education moving forward.
Right now, it’s actually possible to learn some of the fundamentals of circuit board design — arguably one of the true fundamentals underlying electrical engineering — through some fairly interesting interactive programs. Altium’s peek at design software in this category shows that everything someone needs to digitally design a PCB (printed circuit board, that is) can be available in one interface. The design process takes some getting used to, but for what it is, the right software can make it fairly intuitive.
VR gaming may be able to take this sort of software to new heights, making it interesting as a piece of entertainment rather than just as a tool for design enthusiasts. Through VR, gamers could interact in a hands-on manner with digital electronic schematics, with all sorts of challenges, rewards, and progressions built in as incentives. A whole generation could become more familiar with what’s required in electrical engineering moving forward.
In a similar way, VR gaming could be used to teach computer coding — which, it probably goes without saying, is another subject that’s only getting more important with each passing year. Today, it’s actually not uncommon for children to learn some coding basics in school, or through workbooks they can explore as side activities (almost the way kids in previous generations might have done word searches or puzzles).
Additionally, there are existing games already in this category. Make Use Of’s list of coding games shows a fair amount of variety and innovation: There’s a game in which your coding efforts control battling robot tanks; games in which coding helps to solve puzzles and complete challenges; and games that use specific coding languages to drive adventures. It’s actually a fairly exciting category as is.
Naturally though, VR would add a whole new level of immersion that would make things more exciting for people who aren’t already drawn to coding. As with circuit board design, gamers could take a hands-on approach in virtual space, and enjoy all sorts of fun benefits and progressions for successful coding efforts.
These aren’t the only subjects that can (and likely will) be taught via VR. But they illustrate nicely just how much potential this medium has. In time, VR will likely provide people with better ways to learn new skills and subjects, all without feeling like they’re working at it.