Games in Education

Microsoft Explores the Educational Power of Video Games

Microsoft's Craig MundieVideo game giant Microsoft has been working on a study to determine what leads avid gamers to the medium and how that can be used to promote skills and learning in the classroom. The study is being conducted by the New York University Games for Learning Institute, a $3 million initiative supported by Microsoft Research.

The project, launched in October 2008, aims to determine whether video games that are not necessarily designed to be educational can draw students into math, science and technology-based programs. The institute has begun its search for middle school students as test subjects. Read More...

Speaking during a visit to Microsoft’s Fargo, North Dakota campus in February 2009, the company’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie said that some mainstream games can stimulate a child's educational abilities by helping them develop "a higher-order cognitive capability."

For example, many first-person shooters require players to track "how many bullets and bombs and missiles do I have, and how do I spend and where do I go get more of them," explained Mundie.

Some teenagers like 17-year-old student Devin Krauter admit that these games are more than just about the action. According to Krauter, ranked among the best players of Microsoft’s Gears of War 2, the video game teaches him to think on his feet and has him thinking about succeeding – not slaying – as he navigates through underground tunnels and buildings, monitors his weapons systems, gauges his health and finds places to hide.

“Technology has the potential to help reinvent the education process, and excite and inspire young learners to embrace science, math and technology,” said Mundie, speaking to New York University faculty and students in October 2008. “The Games for Learning Institute at NYU is a great example of how technology can change how students learn, making it far more natural and intuitive.”

Microsoft invested $1.5 million USD to kick-start the Games for Learning Institute, an amount matched by NYU. This first-of-its-kind gaming research alliance works to provide “the fundamental scientific evidence to support games as learning tools for math and science subjects among middle school students,” explains Microsoft on its research website. Other contributors to the Games For Learning Institute include Columbia University, Dartmouth College and Games For Change.

"We want to figure out what's compelling about the games," said John Nordlinger, head of gaming research for Microsoft. "If we can find out how to make the games fun and not make them so violent, that would be ideal."

“Middle school is a critical stage for students, a time when many are introduced to advanced math and science concepts,” said Ken Perlin, NYU professor and director of the Games for Learning Institute. “Many students become discouraged or uninterested and pour their time at home into gaming. Ironically, we think gaming is our starting point to draw them into math, science and technology-based programs.”

While many researchers have been exploring the links between educational video games and student learning, Microsoft’s recent involvement adds some much needed capital and credibility to this type of research.