Online gaming is the bane of parents worried about video addiction and adults fearful that their bosses will figure out why they are so unproductive so much of the time. The games that are designed to sell are specifically crafted with all the intellectual resources available, to make people stay with them.
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They often provide, if one looks carefully, intermittent positive reinforcement, which, Psychology 101 taught us, is very powerful. They are an addictive substance, and custom-built to be exactly that. So, why in the whacky world would we want to encourage people of any age to go check out more online games?
Because, dear reader, the very addictiveness – the compelling nature of well-constructed online interactive games and activities are a fabulous advantage when we are trying to learn something. How can we best exploit this resource?
Think about what you want from the experience of playing a game online, because there as many different opportunities as there gaming fanatics and designers itching to get you onto their sites. You may want to learn something, or sharpen cognitive skills, or hand/eye coordination, or memory, or practice specific math techniques. There is something out there for every one of these goals. Look at these wonderful websites.
The most visually arresting is the National Geographic. This venerable organization has always had a tradition of providing beautiful images of the natural world and its people to inspire and inform. Did you know that the magazine used to insist that every photograph, of whatever untamed landscape or scene, should include a human figure somewhere in it?
This was probably intended to reinforce the connection between people and nature. This tradition is maintained in the National Geographic website, where games are flanked by gorgeous pictures of animals, people, and vistas. The games are simple but provide a sound ecological message. The ones available at the time of this writing are aimed at the very young.
If you want some of the feel of the aforementioned and decried Grand Theft Auto, but without the drugs, bad language, and violence, try, as an example, the Neon Racer game at Learn4Good. This particular game is reminiscent of the movie Tron, in its earlier incarnation, with light-outlined-motorcycles speeding down a virtual racecourse. This little game, so basic in design, offers a fast, dangerous driving experience. It is not entirely clear what academic content is being conveyed, but it does keep one’s attention focused.
There a bunch of other options listed, including one that offers a swords and castles sort of game. Again, the educational content is a bit obscure, but having free access to a game that avoids desensitizing a generation of young people to interpersonal violence seems worthwhile. Each game is on its own webpage, which means that the design varies widely.
Quite sophisticated games are on the SheppardSoftware site. They are listed as being for kids, however, be assured, many adults will be challenged. For example, the 600 history questions in the history trivia game includes some rather obscure facts! The visuals are almost entirely absent, but this is free, as a compensatory factor. The mathematics practice games go up to Algebra 2. They are planning to offer Pre-Calculus soon, which will make this useful for nearly everyone through high school, at the least.
If you want to aim for a Nobel Prize, or launch your offspring towards becoming a laureate, try out NobelPrize.org. In addition to comprehensive information about the winners and their accomplishments, this site offers games that provide a taste of the actual science that such luminaries engage in on a daily basis. As one example, visitors to the site can try out the skill of finding out blood type.
This is certainly a useful skill in the real world. The hope of any parent would be for this to inspire a child to enter the health sciences after playing this game, but most of us would be happy just to have a rest from Assassin’s Creed.
Ok, this next one is not strictly speaking educational. One could play it without learning a blessed thing. However, it is this writer’s favorite game of any variety or medium, and this writer has shameless decided to exploit the situation. Scrabble for iPad is just a great way to play with words.
There are other versions for regular computers. If you have never played this game, then you should start. If you take the simple step of trying to use words that are unfamiliar to you, employing an online dictionary to do so, you will learn some new vocabulary. If you are already a fan, this allows you to take it with you wherever you roam.
There is no reason to avoid gaming if you are using any of the many educational games that are available online. You can have all the fun of the commercial games, with almost none of the cost, and, happily, none of the detractions that make violent games so disturbing. Go play a game!