Players’ Reflections on Digital Games as a Medium for Education: Results from a Qualitative Study
Keywords:game-based learning, geography education, qualitative methods, media literacy, players, simulation games
The use of digital game potential for education has been investigated extensively. However, little is known about how players themselves perceive educational possibilities of the entertainment games they play in their free time. This knowledge gap is problematic because players’ own assumptions about learning with digital games will influence the acceptance and the outcome of any game-related educational intervention. Based on a qualitative content analysis of interviews with 19 adolescent and young adult players of five simulation games (Age of Empires, Cities Skylines, Civilization 6, Eco, and Tropico 6), this study investigates how players perceive digital entertainment games as a medium for (geography) education. While a few interviewees dismiss the potential of digital (entertainment) games, predominantly based on the games’ contents instead of medial particularities, others embrace the educational possibilities of the medium wholeheartedly, based on its attractiveness and unique characteristics, including didactical features. A third group of respondents provided mixed reviews of (entertainment) games’ educational potential by referring to advantages and disadvantages of the medium’s characteristics, as well as the challenges of a simplified and/or inaccurate representation of content. Interviewees from all three groups underestimated the value of digital games for (geography) education beyond subject matter expertise. By solely framing (geography) education as the transfer of correct and politically neutral specialized knowledge, they failed to recognize games’ possibilities in terms of achieving additional learning goals of contemporary (geography) education, such as critical reflection skills, argumentation skills, and the formation of opinion. Overall, many players rightly assume that a successful implementation into the geography classroom strongly depends on context variables, such as the selected game, target group, learning goals, and pedagogical concept. Above all, they stress the importance of briefing and debriefing by an educator. Finally, the players’ levels of reflection and depth of argumentation varied significantly – presumably depending on their age, educational level, and the games they refer to.