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Good Gaming

by Tom Hanlon / Aug 29, 2022

H. Chad Lane

Video games can get a bad rap. Chad Lane discusses how games can be used to benefit both players and society.

Frequently, news on video games focuses on violence and addiction. But research over the last several decades shows that video games often have positive effects, says H. Chad Lane, associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education.

Lane will discuss these positive effects as he leads a discussion on Friday, September 2, at the Saint Louis Science Center. His presentation is entitled “Crafting Interactive Experiences: The Power of Games for Meaningful Engagement and Impact.”

“We’ll be discussing how game designs and interactive experiences influence our behavior and beliefs, the psychological and cognitive aspects of engagement, and how we can leverage this for social good, such as in education and health,” says Lane, who is also affiliated with the departments of Curriculum & Instruction and Computer Science as well as the Illinois Informatics Institute.

Positive Impact of Games

He points to a number of games with positive effects on players:

  • Re-Mission, which engages pediatric cancer patients while impacting psychological and behavioral outcomes associated with successful cancer treatment;
  • Peacemaker, which explains the Israeli-Palestinian history of conflict;
  • Zombie Division, which teaches elementary students about fractions; and
  • Parable of Polygons, which demonstrates how our choices can contribute to a segregated world even when we have good intentions.

“There are a range of studies showing potentially positive effects on the emotional, developmental, and social benefits of video games,” Lane says.  Cognitive activities in games include problem-solving tasks, calculations and predictions, and long, drawn-out strategy implementation, he says.

Even so, he adds, it is methodologically difficult to pinpoint the effects of games generally.

“My favorite quote about the effects of games is by Daphne Bevalier from the University of Geneva, who said, ‘One can no more say what the effects of video games are than one can say what the effects of food are.’ In other words, there are so many kinds of games, so many ways to play, so much variety, that blanket statements about them are pretty much impossible to support with evidence. It has more to do with how they are designed, deployed, and contextualized.”

Stimulating Interest in STEM

In his own research, Lane uses Minecraft, the most popular video of all time, to engage students in learning about astronomy and imagining how humans might be able to survive away from Earth.

“We focus on getting middle schoolers to understand how a game like Minecraft can be used to get kids interested in science and think about big questions,” he says.

This research is carried out through WHIMC (What-If Hypothetical Implementations in Minecraft), a National Science Foundation-funded project and interdisciplinary collaboration, for which Lane is principle investigator.

“Through WHIMC, we develop computer simulations to generate interest and engagement in STEM,” he says. “For example, we ask questions such as ‘What if the earth had no moon?’ or ‘What would it be like to visit an exoplanet?’ Kids then get to explore these worlds as aspiring scientists and engineers on an interactive server that provides a variety of AI-based and structural supports for learning.”