If you have young spawnlings and you love playing tabletop games, you may have come across the term “Gameschooling”. Naturally, the first question is “What is Gameschooling?”, followed closely by “uh, how does that differ from what I’m already doing?” For some people, there may be no difference at all. However, like many things in the Evil Genius Artillery, it all depends on how you implement it.
What is “Gameschooling?”
Naturally the first question. Gameschooling is the use of any games for educational development. It’s a term first introduced by the homeschooling community who have been doing this forever. Gameschooling simply became a popular thing around the same time as the boom in tabletop; well, the first boom in tabletop (around 2016) followed by the explosion in ‘home-based learning’ during the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. While most people associate Gameschooling with tabletop games (board games and card games), it also extends to video games. However, be prepared for a more heated discussion about THAT subtopic.
Uh, How Does That Differ From What I’m Already Doing?
And the expected follow-up question. Many of us already play games at home, with and without the kids. As I write this, we are surviving the school holidays with 2.5 sick kids (I say “0.5” because the youngest hasn’t decided if she is really sick or simply wants to join in with her brothers). Gaming is our only saving grace: tabletop and video. It’s a common theme across many evil genius households.
The difference between Gameschooling and Gaming is whether or not the spawnlings are learning while playing. I’m sure there are a bunch of homeschooling groups who are going to rebuke this and say, “Oh, it’s far more complicated than that!” but they’re wrong.
The magic of gaming is you don’t have to be obvious with the educational benefits. Almost every game I have played has educational benefits, either obvious or subtle. If you are relying only on the obvious educational benefits, then yay! You are gameschooling! Here’s your medal! But you are going to run the risk of losing some of the magic. The majority of kids do not want to play a game because it is educational. They want to play because it is fun. And if they happen to be learning some skills along the way, then fine. They probably won’t complain as much.
Okay, So How Do I Do This Gameschooling?
Let’s take a look at some examples. Say you are looking to incorporate some basic mathematical principles for your younger primary school spawnlings. Start with your own game collection and take note of any games with numbers or basic calculations. Snakes & Ladders is a quick and easy choice. Roll the die and count the numbers, adding as you go. Huzzah! You mathed!
Now, take it up a level and add some more ‘maths’ to the game. How about counting in twos as you roll the die? Roll a three, count “two, four, six”. Play the game in reverse and work on subtraction. You, my young apprentice, have Gameschooled. Parenting Win!!
This is basic Gameschooling and something most families have been doing for years. It was a thing before social media made it A Thing. Often we played these games for entertainment as kids without realising we were learning. It’s one of the brilliant reasons teachers love using games in the classroom. It’s also a big reason why ‘make your game’ is now part of the school curriculum but we’ll come to that in a moment.
As the concept of Gameschooling has become more popular, many companies and game developers are jumping in with their own ‘special gameschool features’. Reviewers, like myself, also realise Gameschooling is a feature you are looking for.
For example, when I am asked for suggestions on ‘maths games’ in Gameschool communities, my first suggestion is usually Zeus on the Loose (review on GeekMom here). It’s a card game built on basic addition and subtraction up to 100. It features “friends of 10”, which is a core mathematical principle of Kindy-1-2 in Australian primary schools. Because the mechanic of the game is dependent on this specific mathematics tool, the game is essentially a learning tool and thus perfect for Gameschooling. While not super subtle, the maths is hidden within the fun of ‘stealing Zeus’ so most kids don’t mind learning-through-play.
THAT’S how you really Gameschool.
What Kind of Games are Good for Gameschooling?
And we’re back to my initial point: Any game can be good for Gameschooling, depending on how you use it. Some games make it easier than others but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it work for you.
Tabletop games with dice or numbers are the easiest to find. I will always love this article about the kid who convinced his school Principal how Pokemon (TCG) is educational. Same can apply with Magic: the Gathering and many other card games. You’ve already seen how Snakes & Ladders extends beyond the norm. Ohanami is another fave of ours.
English and literacy are a little trickier but mainly because it is harder to set the game to match your spawnling’s ability. New game on the block, Match 5, is a great starting point for younger kids as you are matching two categories to find a word or subject (review is coming). Old school favourites like Boggle and Scrabble also help with vocab and spelling, though you will need to match younger players with older players in a way that won’t discourage the younger players.
Once you have learnt how to pick the basic learning principles, it will become easier to level up in your Gameschooling. For example, Antidote is a great game for teaching logic and problem-solving skill (see my review on GeekMom here). Both Risk and Pandemic include general Geography skills. I also love to use Orchard for basic foreign language lessons with colours, numbers, and please/thankyou. Photosynthesis has been a fantastic game for learning about reforestation and the life-cycle of trees.
And then there is Dungeons & Dragons, which is possibly the most multi-disciplinary learning experience you could ever have: maths with hit points and dice-rolling, language skills with story development, and some serious scientific lessons involving physics when you are assessing how to deal with an onslaught of gorgons in a cave with a rising tide. In a lot of these examples, the key determining factor is how you look at the game and incorporate the learning with play.
Is Gameschooling Only for Tabletop?
The majority of examples you find in gameschool communities will focus on tabletop, being board games and card games. And that’s fair. There is something quite stimulating about the tangible nature of tabletop. Having the physical contact with dice or game pieces can awake parts of the brain usually dulled when kids face complex situation analysis. Recent studies have shown how tabletop can help people with ADHD and chronic pain management. Schools are learning from this, with more teachers including tabletop in the classroom. In the last four-years of education (year 6 to year 10), EG Sinister alone has had four assignments based on the design of his own tabletop game. Each assignment has been for a different subject: Politics/History, Geography, Commerce, and Maths.
The educational benefits of gaming are not limited to tabletop. When you consider the core learning concepts, you can apply an educational approach to any game–including video games. I’m not talking about the “Fun Maths Games” most primary school teachers keep for ‘special rewards’ in class. Those games are fun and educational but a bit boring after a while.
Minecraft is one of the most obvious choices for educational gaming. There is plenty to learn with coding, physics, and maths as well as some great updates for ecosystems and geography. EG Nefarious attended a STEM-focussed school in Year 5 and Year 6, where the teacher included lots of Minecraft activities. She clearly knew her audience and gameschooling benefits.
Gameschooling in video games goes beyond the obvious educational choices. Again, it is up to you to find the benefits, with full acknowledgement not every game will be educational. EG Sinister is studying robotics and logic algorithms in his Information Systems and Technology class. So I pointed him toward Neon Noodles to test out his logic sequencing.
Neon Noodles is a new game available on Steam and released as part of PAX Online in 2020. The game is based on a sushi restaurant run by robots. You are responsible for programming the robots to perform their individual tasks and coordinate with other robots to manage the sushi restaurant. It is a cute game with an increasing level of complexities as your restaurant grows. It has also been an excellent study tool when Sinister is testing out his logic.
One of my favourite games from 2019 was Heaven’s Vault, a game built around linguistics and history (review on GeekMom here). The game is a fantastic adventure discovering archaeological ruins on neighbouring planets. The twist is no one can understand the markings to learn the history or significance. Think space-Indiana Jones but without a Rosetta Stone to figure it out. As you progress through the levels, you are shown how to use basic linguistic skills to learn and apply a completely unknown language. Between the narrative and the realistic setting for learning, Heaven’s Vault is one of my top favourites for video gameschooling for older kids.
By now, you have probably realised you have been living with gameschooling for longer than you realised. Don’t panic, it is not fatal. Now that you have identified your condition, you have the opportunity to enhance your gaming lives! This does not mean you must always be gameschooling. Au contraire, it gives you an alternative to working with your kids. Education is more than a classroom experience; as long as we are alive, we are always learning. Gaming simply gives us a medium to make it more fun.
If you are looking specific suggestions on gameschooling examples, ask in the comments below. I’ll share some targeted examples over the coming weeks!
Evil Genius Mum
Evil Genius Mum
- Taking over the world, one blog post at a time