Video games, popular as they may be, aren't (yet) candidates for the most respected teaching tools. Many critics, with or without educational credentials, are skeptical that video games can teach us skills. Sitting in front of a screen playing the latest title is seen as a waste of time - or an ineffective way to learn something new. But gaming, while offering players the chance to relax and have fun, can also help develop useful, real-world skills.
Proponents have always argued that video games can be beneficial, whether they're helping players improve their reflexes or teaching them about morality. But video games like the ones on this list provide some practical lessons, too - so much so that you might even be able to get away with playing them at work or school.
- Photo: Take-Two Interactive
Even Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, is a fan of Kerbal Space Program. The game prompts players to help a fictional race advance their space program so they can get off their planet and visit other worlds. What makes the Kerbal Space Program stand out from similar games is how accurate it is concerning physics.
The game replicates real-world orbits so accurately that anyone playing it for long periods will soon begin to gain a better understanding of the basics of rocket science, physics, and mechanics. It creates an exciting but tense experience in which players test their rocket designs to create the most efficient space module.
- Photo: Microsoft
Learning to fly a plane requires vast amounts of training that's out of reach for most people. However, flight simulators such as the Flight Simulator series produced by Microsoft can give ordinary people a representative idea of what flying is like - without the risk and expense that comes with actually climbing into the air.
Some flight simulators are so accurate that experts believe they can be a useful training tool for prospective pilots. The games show players the plane's instruments and the processes each flight goes through.
- Photo: Microsoft
Minecraft, one of the world's most popular games, has become a powerful educational tool. In fact, the educational value of the game, in which players create and learn to survive in online worlds - a sort of virtual version of Legos - has led to the release of MinecraftEdu, a version created especially for schools. The game is used to teach students about urban planning, giving them insight into how to set up cities and towns so they will run effectively.
Minecraft also allows players to simulate electrical circuits thanks to an in-game material called redstone, described by Microsoft as "the Minecraft equivalent of electricity." Anyone playing the game can experiment with simple electrical engineering projects, creating automated doors and gates, elevators, light switches, and more. People have even been able to construct hard drives and calculators within the game.
- Photo: Ubisoft
While games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero are immensely popular, they don't really teach users how to play instruments. Instead, they offer a way to experience some of the joys of playing live music. Ubisoft created Rocksmith to combine the enjoyment of those titles with the ability to learn how to play a real instrument.
Rocksmith uses a variety of tools, mini-games, and lessons to let players build up their skills with a guitar slowly, ranging from basic techniques like how to hold the instrument all the way up to playing chords. The games add more difficult elements as players develop so they can eventually become competent enough to play from memory.