The validity of using video games to educate children is something that is discussed by both public historians and parents almost everywhere. Recently the Globe and Mail featured an article discussing Microsoft’s move to exploring the educational resources that potentially exist in video games. Microsoft and New York University have created The Games for Learning Institute. The Institute is designed to see if regular video games can draw students into math, science and technology programs. The idea that some video games can improve problem solving and reaction times is nothing new, however Microsoft is the first to attempt a study on a much larger scale. Microsoft may have ulterior motives to this study (maybe selling video games to schools for educational purposes and profit), but regardless of this understanding how children and youth learn from gaming has the potential to benefit a number of disciplines.
So what does this mean for the public historian? The Institute’s study is geared towards developing math, science, and technology skills through video games. However, the popularity of war focused video games seems like perfect forum for learning more about military history. Even board games like Risk have the potential to teach youth about military strategy, political boundaries, and military history in general. If games are constructed in consultation with a historian the educational possibilities multiply, it’s just a matter of understanding the best way to reach youth. Perhaps a heritage or historical group needs to create their own institute to discover how youth best absorb historical information….though very few historical organizations have a fraction of the money that Microsoft does, so learning more about the history and gaming might be awhile off.