11 Commercial Games

Carrie Lewis Miller

Learning Objectives

  • Debate the impact of commercial games for education and training
  • Evaluate commercially available games for use in educational contexts

From Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? to Minecraft, commercial games have long been used in educational settings.  As commercial video games and video game platforms advance at a rapid pace, can we still make the argument that games such as Call of DutyElven Scrolls, or Clash of Clans are useful in educational settings?  GBL experts, like Jim Gee and Elisabeth Hayes, would argue that indeed we can!  Gee and Hayes (2010) make the argument that commercial video games develop academic literacy in players – meaning they teach people how to learn.  In studies, Gee and Hayes (2010) have shown that commercial video games can also help players, and female players, in particular, develop a socioemotional intelligence through collaboration, creative problem solving, and artistic creation.

If we think about any video games you may have played, or the game you are playing now, reflect on how you learned the ins and outs of gameplay.  Was there a tutorial?  Were there instructions?  Gone are the days of a game disc jacket with game instructions.  Commercial video games now offer learning levels and in-game learning opportunities.  How do you know how to upgrade your character’s strengths?  How do you determine what tasks to undertake first?  The “unlearned” lessons in gameplay are instilling academic literacy – they are teaching you how to learn within the context of the game by encouraging exploration and experimentation.

By using commercial video games in educational settings, we can create an environment where conversations about metacognition, a critical awareness of how we as individuals think and learn, are natural extensions of the course activities.   There is much evidence to suggest the efficacy of using commercial games in K-12 education but there is much less information about the use of commercial games in higher education or in training outside of military training or medical training. There is research evidence to support the use of commercial video games as pre-operative warm-ups for surgeons (Jalink et al., 2015).

But what else can commercial games teach our students?  Commercial games by definition include digital and board games.  What makes a game worth the purchase price? Here are some of the skills that commercial games, both digital and board, can encourage in your learners:

  • Literacy
  • Communication
  • Team-work
  • Problem-solving
  • Forecasting
  • Strategic thinking

In addition to the skills listed above, there can be some value in correcting content mistakes.  History students playing Assassin’s Creed may be able to spot historical inaccuracies in the storyline.  Literature students can compare the Lord of the Rings video games to the books and evaluate how a change in a character’s actions changes the storyline.  Video games with strong female characters, like Tomb Raider or Resident Evil, can be a launch point for discussions on feminism, gender equality, and body image.


Questions for Discussion

  1. Revisit the available Impact Guides from Arizona State’s Center for Games and Impact (https://gamesandimpact.org/impact-guides/). Choose at least two games and review any and all impact guides for each one. What, if anything, is missing from the guides? What benefit do these guides provide to users? Can you see yourself using the existing guides or designing your own if you choose to implement commercial games into learning? Did these guides sway your views on the value of commercial games in education? Why or why not?
  2. Based on the readings, how do you feel about commercial games in educational contexts? Is there evidence to challenge the use of commercial video games in learning?



Gee, J., & Hayes, E. R. (2010). Women and gaming: The Sims and 21st-century learning. Springer.

Jalink, M. B., Heineman, E., Pierie, J. P. E. N., & ten Cate Hoedemaker, H. O. (2015). The effect of a preoperative warm-up with a custom-made Nintendo video game on the performance of laparoscopic surgeons. Surgical Endoscopy29(8), 2284-2290.


Recommended Supplementary Material

  • Kühn, S., Gleich, T., Lorenz, R. C., Lindenberger, U., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Playing super mario induces structural brain plasticity: Gray matter changes resulting from training with a commercial video game. Molecular Psychiatry, 19(2), 265-71. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/mp.2013.120
  • Ramsay, D. (2015). Brutal games: Call of duty and the cultural narrative of world war II. Cinema Journal, 54(2), 94-113. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.mnsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1760208166?accountid=12259
  • Copp, S. E., Fischer, R. L., Luo, T., Moore, D. R., & Dikkers, S. (2014). Analyzing Commercial Video Game Instruction through the Lens of Instructional Design. Journal of Applied Instructional Design, 4(1), 79-90.
  • Ed Got Game Podcast #19 The Good, Bad and the Ugly of Using Commercial Games in the Classroom






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Game Based and Adaptive Learning Strategies Copyright © 2021 by Carrie Lewis Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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