The idea of using the cool modern computer games for serious, particularly educational purposes is thrilling educators, researchers, and developers. The genre of learning games has become a major field of psycho-pedagogical research and quite certainly those games will play an important and accepted role in the future educational landscape.

But why is this educational medium so popular? In the first instance, it is rooted in the popularity of computer games in general. Computer games have become the preferred leisure activity; statistics say that about 70% of European households play computer games, the average player spends one to two hours a day on playing those games, and multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft developed a community of several million active subscribers.

Of course, the phenomenon of quickly utilising new media and new technologies for educational purposes is not new – just think about television or computers and the internet. Most of these new technologies seriously changed everyday life and the educational landscape. Computers and the internet, for example, have given birth to the economically and educationally enormous field of e-learning. And in this tradition, I am convinced, also educational computer games will change when and how people learn.

Computer games won’t solve all our educational problems and they won’t be a Nuremberg funnel but as opposed to previous – even interactive – media, computer games provide entirely new possibilities: They combine a terrific visual appeal with radical interactivity and user control, they combine clear goals and tasks with fascinating stories, they combine enthralling fantasy with curiosity, or they combine social interactions with strong yet positive competition. And this is significantly more than previous media could. In a stunningly natural way, computer games can make learning meaningful and important and make knowledge a desirable and relevant good.

On this playful basis, we might make learning a more pleasant activity, maybe a more effective activity (for which we occasionally find evidence), maybe more suitable for the “digital natives”, but definitely we can reach those children and adolescents we could not reach satisfyingly with conventional educational measures.

As a matter of course, we are facing significant challenges on our way to create successful educational computer games and we have to invest in further research. Examples are the challenge of controlling the immense costs of learning games that can compete with their commercial, non-educational counterparts, the challenge of finding a suitable balance of gaming and learning, the challenge of real-time adaptation that is so important for the fragile motivation to play, the challenge of finding the subtle balance between challenges and abilities, or the challenge of utilising the educational potential of social interactions through (massively) multiplayer games. Significant efforts are made addressing these challenges, for example in the context of 80Days ( an interdisciplinary research project funded by the European Commission.

I am convinced about the educational potential and the educational future of games and I am curious to see the upcoming cool new learning games. Since, as Marshall McLuhan, Canadian philosopher and scientist, pointed out, “Anyone who makes a distinction between games and learning doesn't know the first thing about either”.


Dr. Michael D. Kickmeier-Rust

Psychologist and Coordinator of 80Days
Department of Psychology, University of Graz, Austria
Brueckenkopfgasse 1 / 6, 8020 Graz, Austria
Phone: +43 (0)316-873-9554
Fax: +43 (0)316-873-9552