5 Popular Video Games That Are Actually Educational

Prakhar Singh
Dec 2 · 5 min read
Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Educational games of the old used to be dull, low-quality, poorly written and not very well thought out. But that’s usually because of the low budget most of these developers have to work with. Despite the market demand, there are only a handful of game developers who work on educational games. That said, this article is not about the lack of educational games, in fact, it’s about the opposite. The following are some of the most popular commercial video games that are a testament to what educational games can be. These are the games that have been used by students, teachers, and gamers to learn, experiment, and discover new things.

Some of these games don’t try to hide their educational value. In fact, they use it as one of the main selling points. Others underplay their educational aspect, but they are by no means “less” educational. The following is a list of 5 popular games that offer some tremendous educational value:

1. Kerbal Space Program

Price: Free to Play

Subject: Physics

Meet the Kerbal scientists of the planet Kerbin. This free-to-play indie sim is one of the most popular educational games currently on the market. The game is about three Kerbal scientists who are working on their own space program much like the one the United States had in the 1960s. It offers various milestones that the player can tackle. Like landing the first Kerbal on one of the planet’s two moons, sending drones to the Sun, and even sending Kerbonauts to other planets in the Solar System. The challenge?

The game has a very realistic physics engine which makes the game a lot more serious and sim-like. If you want your students to face challenges like the ones faced by engineers and physicists working on the Apollo program, this is the game for you. By the time your students finish the game, they will have a better understanding of some of the core principles of physics, thanks to the game’s very accurate physics model.

2. Garry’s Mod

Price: $9.99

Subject: Physics / Media Creation

With almost 3 million reviews and an average rating of 10/10, chances are your students are already aware of the next game on our list. Garry’s Mod is a truly do whatever you want, make whatever you want style open sandbox.

The game truly shines because of its physics engine. Teachers can ask their students to create a car, design a roller coaster, or launch the car they made over the roller coaster they designed using a catapult. The possibilities are truly limitless. Though the game does have a steep learning curve, most teachers don’t have to worry because there’s a truly gigantic collection of community created content on Steam’s Workshop.

While the game’s complexity is one of the reasons it’s so popular, the steep learning curve might be off-putting to some students and teachers. However, spending time learning complex controls and settings might be a fun learning experience in itself. Once the class understands the game, there are not a lot of things you cannot do with it.

3. Portal 2

Price: $9.99 BUT teachers can actually claim it for free

Subject: Physics / Puzzle-solving

Yep, one of the most popular games of all time is actually free for educators. Back in 2012, Steam launched its Steam for School program which offered a stripped-down version of the game for free with only features that Steam deemed necessary for education. There’s also the full paid version which offers a pretty amazing storyline but the real star of the show is the game’s puzzle-solving aspect.

The game forces the player to think creatively and use a “gun” to create portals through space to clear various levels. The game also has realistic physics models that help students get a better understanding of physics’ principles such as gravity, acceleration, and mass.

4. Sid Meier’s Civilization V

Price: $29.99

Subject: History / Strategy

One of the best strategy games out there and again, one that many of you might have already heard of or even played. The turn-based game is the fifth edition of the Civilization Franchise. The players have to build and expand their kingdom using strategy — making decisions and then facing the consequences. While the characters are based on real-life leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Saladin, it is more or less fiction. The events that place are almost completely dependent on your own actions. It teaches players to think long and hard and consider the consequences of their actions — something kids should learn early on. The player makes trade deals, declares wars, builds cities, advances their armies, and so much more.

5. Minecraft

Price: $26.95

Subject: Creative Design

Minecraft is probably the inspiration behind another game on our list: Garry’s Mod, and is also one that I am absolutely sure you’ve heard of. The entire world of Minecraft is made up of procedurally generated blocks — blocks of resources. The player’s break up (or MINE) these blocks to gather resources to make, well, make about anything. The game has no story and the player is free to do anything they feel like (although you can fight a dragon upon reaching the “end” of the game). Because of the open-world nature of the game, the teachers need to play an active role by giving out tasks and watch how the students complete those tasks. It’s a great game to improve skills such as resource management, design, and most importantly, creativity.

6. Solitaire (bonus entry)

Price: Free (came with the PC)

Subject: Hand-eye coordination and input controls

Probably the oldest educational game ever. Solitaire came pre-installed with the personal computers running a version of Windows anywhere from 1990 to 2008. The purpose of installing a card game into a work machine (which is what most computers were used for back then) was not for pastime. No, the purpose was more educational. It was to teach users how to operate a mouse, which was a new experience for most users at the time.

The creators of Windows knew that most users would have trouble dragging files and folders or clicking on things initially but dragging those cards must feel more natural.

All of these popular games were actually educational and some great tools for game-based learning. You have probably already chosen which game you’re going to use in your classroom but are you sure how you are going to implement it?

Check out our article on Implementing GBL in the Classroom for some valuable insight.

Prakhar Singh

Narrative designer, copywriter, and web content connoisseur. Check out thewriterman.com to learn more about me.

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