From problem-solving to strategic thinking, games are helping learners hone crucial skills that translate directly to success. The connection is clear between video gaming and future careers in technology, design, and broadcasting – and educators are finding ways to leverage this passion for learning.

It’s not that long ago when most teachers would scoff at the idea of video games as anything other than a frivolous pass time. Yet, more people are starting to see the connection between focused video game activities and cultivating a passion for technology and creative careers. Over a hundred educators recently gathered for the Curro Esports Indaba, an event merging the worlds of education and video games.

“I didn’t encounter a single bout of scepticism among the attendees, which was amazing,” says Julia Robson, founder of ENTER LAN and Acer’s Predator gaming ambassador. “I had to pinch myself, walking into a room of 175 educators wearing their gaming name on the back of their esports jerseys, custom-made for the event. That was something that really made me think, ‘Okay, this is next level’.”

Video games can encourage STEM education

Some educators knew their way around gaming, while others were new or removed from the activity. But all of them had fun while also gaining an appreciation for the time and effort that can go into a video game hobby.

Though playing games will not automatically turn a student towards a career in science, technology, engineering, or maths (STEM), there are emerging correlations between active gamers and successful careers.

Research conducted by the University of Surrey discovered that IT professionals and engineers often enjoy strategy and puzzle games, while people in managerial roles hone their organisational and planning skills in role-playing games. The study also noted a link between playing online games with others and developing soft skills sought after in modern workplaces.

Robson is not surprised by these findings. She engages with many different gamers across South Africa and the rest of the world, and says that many are in careers that started with their interest in gaming. She even has a personal link to this trend:

“My brother was a major World of Warcraft player. Gaming ultimately taught him that he could push himself into a space of learning and adaptation. The more knowledge you can acquire, the more you know, comprehend and understand. That gave him an edge to the point now where he’s currently busy with his masters in physics.”

Tips to mix education and gaming

Not all games or gaming experiences are conducive to helping young minds expand their horizons. What should educators look for if they want to leverage video games?

* Try it yourself: Teachers who feel removed from gaming should take the plunge. Find out which games are popular with their students and try those for themselves. If they don’t have a gaming PC or console, contact a gaming organisation such as ENTER LAN or speak to facilitators like Acer For Education about arranging a gaming session.

* Look at the possibilities: Gaming and its related activities can encourage different skill sets, such as teamwork, problem-solving, and design thinking, and peripheral tasks, such as broadcasting, designing visual assets, programming, robotics, and competing with an athletic mindset. Which skills are relevant to the classroom?

* Choose Games with Educational Value: Select games that make sense for the right lessons. If the topic is history, consider games set in historical settings, such as strategy titles and city builders. Promote collaboration with communal games, competitive games for team play, or creative expression through design-orientated games. Games can also help students grasp programming, robotics, or AI, even the fundamentals of gardening, biological systems, and more.

* Host Gaming Clubs or Competitions: The value of games is not just in playing them. Gaming clubs create social, safe, and inclusive environments for learners. Examples include promoting competitiveness through esports teams, fostering collaboration in shared multiplayer worlds, building teamwork with strategy and puzzle events, and hosting communal worlds on school servers.

* Create a safe environment: Many educators are concerned about online safety and cyberbullying. Building classroom gaming groups and school clubs provide welcoming spaces where students can socialise and experiment without those risks. Create a code of conduct, educate students on online safety, and encourage parents to be involved.

There are great online resources on creating a gaming club at schools. Educators can also contact Acer For Education, ENTER LAN, and edutech groups such as Schoolscape, Curro Esports, and InnovateEDU.

Video games help students understand their options

Video games help learners understand the connected world. As their options expand, they start to connect the pieces and wield technology to build their futures. Gaming has been a big catalyst for Robson, introducing her to the wider opportunities computers present.

“Gaming brings us closer to the online world and gives a lot more understanding of how technology works. Prior to playing video games, I didn’t understand the first thing about a graphics card, a CPU, or how a computer works. And now I can run a LAN company, create content, and use digital tools in all aspects of my life. There’s a lot that comes from this gaming space. Even as a hobby, with the right structure it develops so much.”

That structure can manifest through the discipline of esports playing Valorent, the teamwork in games like Minecraft, or even learning the basics of software programming in Roblox. Educators can use video games to help their students prepare for tomorrow in fun and engaging ways.