Is Game-Based Learning always beneficial?

Today’s generation has been born with technology around them. Since technology engages and motivates the students to learn, traditional education is considered as being dull, and boring. Game-Based Learning has brought up a complete change in education. The entertaining experience of learning through GBL helps in developing the thought process, and other management work skill, making the learning process more effective in terms of working towards a goal (Charlier et al., 2012). To implement Game-Based Learning, games, and simulations are used to create a supportive environment for students to acquire knowledge about different subjects. This environment acts as a supplement in traditional learning practice and provides an opportunity for students to understand the theoretical concepts better.

Game-Based Learning and simulations include serious games, which includes the educational environment along with the GBL tools (Tobias et al., 2014). Additionally, simulations are often perceived as learning tools with an element of fun. Also, games have motivational features that help in keeping the students engaged with the task given. These motivational features include points, challenges, and trophies. Motivation is used as a way to keep the learners engaged and focus on their tasks for a longer time. (Vasquez et al., 2017). The simulations also require collaborative participation and contribute to improving metacognitive and critical thinking and reasoning. Simulations also provide a platform for the students to observe the outcomes of their actions like their mistakes. It also encourages them to make decisions via problem-solving competencies, thus leading to a more active, transformative, and experiential reception of knowledge (Vlachopoulos & Makri, 2017).

Digital games are widely criticized due to their negative effects. For example, many researchers have found that video games may lead to negative effects which include the increased tendency of being violent and aggressive in behaviour, lower productivity, and poor personal relationships (Anderson & Bushman, 2001). Apart from being exposed to violence via violent games, video games also lead to health problems like Obesity and Diabetes in adolescents 1 . However, today, the attraction of games for young people is being used to impart education. Hence, Game-Based Learning is used to provide an easy and engaging way to acquire knowledge along with the improvement in behavioral outcomes like interaction and team-work, and affective outcomes like motivation and emotions. However, the question that arises is, “Is Game-Based Learning always beneficial for the audience?” The question asks whether game-based learning always has a positive impact on the target audience, or are there any negative effects? Although it sounds like there can be no negative impact of GBL as it encourages the students to learn and acquire knowledge, there are some effects that prove the opposite. There can be a negative impact on various levels of game-based learning. Majorly, the researchers break down the learning outcomes of games and simulations into three parts: behavioral, cognitive, and affective learning outcomes (Vlachopoulos & Makri, 2017). I will discuss these parts in detail and will go through various positive and negative impacts on each level of game-based learning.

1. Impact on Behavioral Level of Game-Based Learning

One of the primary learning outcomes of Game-Based Learning includes the change in behavioral skills like social interaction skills, of students. The behavioral outcomes include a change in social skills and interaction and teamwork. Implementing game-based learning in learning practices leads to the development of social and collaborative skills. GBL helps the students to build up strong and positive relationships with their peers, encouraging them to collaborate and work together with their team efficiently (Tsekleves et al., 2014). It also helps them to become organized and resolve conflicts with efficient team-work. Moreover, reality and action-based game activities help the students to interact and make decisions, which leads to the collaborative construction of knowledge. Apart from the interactions within the team, these simulations also lead to peer-to-instructor as well. The majority of researchers have confirmed these positive effects of game-based learning on the behavioral level of learning outcomes (Bellotti et al., 2013; Fu et al., 2016; Carenys & Moya, 2016).

Although the above studies acknowledge the positive impact of game-based learning in behavioral outcomes, some studies (Bolliger et al., 2015; Merchant et al., 2014) have contradicted these findings. According to Bolliger et al. (2015), teamwork can be a controversial issue when it comes to the improvement of knowledge sharing. Merchant et al. (2014) claim that sometimes it is better to play individually than in a team, and the use of games can decrease peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor interaction (Bolliger et al., 2015). In some cases, collaboration while playing games can act as a hindrance to learning and may distract students (Dankbaar et al., 2016).

Apart from interaction and collaboration, another negative impact on the behavioral aspect of learning outcomes can be violent behavior. Many action-based video-games like Call of Duty or Counter-Strike, help in the development of the spatial visualization skills and also the peer-to- peer interaction. Especially in Counter-Strike, peer-to-peer interaction is the main thing to win a match in the game. Apart from the increase in peer-to-peer interaction, children are exposed to crime and violence. Even in the media, such games are cited as a negative influence in society 1 . For example, games like “Call of Duty” were linked from mass murder shootings in US schools by Donald Trump 2 . Moreover, these games are also linked to the worldwide prevalence of Obesity and Diabetes in Adolescents. The link with health problems comes with the addiction to such games. These games can be addictive, which can lead to various health issues due to sitting near computers all the time. The negative impact on behavioral outcomes can also affect the level of learning and knowledge acquisition. Hence, the impact on the cognitive level of game- based learning (as this is the level which) helps in improving student’s knowledge acquisition and decision-making.

2. Impact on Cognitive Level of Game-Based Learning

Game-Based Learning also helps in improving the cognitive thinking skills by improving the way to acquire knowledge through games. Cognitive learning outcomes refer to “the knowledge structures relevant to perceiving games as artifacts for linking knowledge-oriented activities with cognitive outcomes” (Lameras et al., 2016). The tasks given in the games and simulations for learning helps in developing a wide range of cognitive skills, like critical thinking, scientific reasoning (Halpern et al., 2012), decision-making (Tiwari, 2014), content understanding (Fu et al., 2016), and problem-solving (Lancaster, 2014). Simulations and games are used to make it easy for students to understand theoretical concepts better and efficiently apply them. Moreover, simulations provide a platform where students can perform experiments with different strategies and play different roles in completing different challenges by making the right decisions. Regarding this, it has been found that students are more likely to learn through games rather than traditional practices (Liu et al., 2011). Apart from problem-solving, game-based learning has proved to be an effective method of learning in domains such as medical education, for example, regarding patient interaction and decision-making (de Wit-Zuurendonk & Oei, 2011).

The impact of simulations and games on cognitive learning is a bit controversial due to varied views among the researchers in the field. Some studies 3 shows an improvement in cognitive learning by the use of Game-Based Learning, while others show no positive or negative impact of game-based learning on knowledge acquisition. The negative impact of game-based learning on knowledge acquisition has been found in terms of mental workload and learning effect. In Cowley et al. (2013), it was found that serious games have a negative influence on mental workload and learning effect. The learning effect tends to be negatively influenced when serious games increase the mental workload and vice versa. This relationship was found in Cowley et al. (2013) by testing it with the game “Peacemaker,” where no significant difference was found in deep learning among the learners. It was also found that the increase in mental workload may change the heart rate significantly, which leads to decreased learning effectiveness.

According to Okan (2003), “in addition to teaching the curriculum, technology has an unintended effect of discouraging serious learning.” It means that game-based learning can teach a student that learning does not require critical reading, perseverance, and collaborative peer learning. Hostetter (2002) found that through the process of active problem-solving skills in digital games, critical thinking skills are developed in students. However, Okan (2003) also found that learning through games results in passive learning in the form of edutainment 4 rather than through the more challenging critical thinking process. If GBL does teach a student that learning does not require critical reading and collaborative peer learning (Okan, 2003), GBL also cannot motivate students to learn. Well, some of the researchers (Liao et al., 2015; Woo, 2014; Ke, 2008) tells the opposite about Game-Based Learning. According to them, GBL has a positive impact on affective outcomes like it motivates the students to learn and build up a feeling of enthusiasm and interest in the students to learn efficiently.

3. Impact on Affective Level of Game-Based Learning

Apart from enhancing cognitive and behavioral outcomes, Game-Based Learning also provides a platform for improving the affective learning outcomes like emotions and motivation to learn. Many researchers (Liao et al., 2015) believes that emotional development plays a significant role in improving the learning outcomes of Game-Based Learning. Great progress is also seen in students’ emotions from negative feelings (e.g., anxiety, nervousness, disappointment) to positive feelings (e.g., confidence, excitement, enjoyment) during in-game and post-game interventions (Woo, 2014). Along with emotions, engagement and motivation are also considered as major factors in enhancing higher education learning objectives (Vlachopoulos & Makri, 2017).

According to many studies (Ke, 2008; Warren et al., 2008), students who were exposed to game- based learning methods are more motivated than those who studied via traditional teaching practices. The former seemed more enthusiastic about the tasks given and were more absorbed in the tasks, exhibiting a higher level of engagement than the latter (Papastergiou, 2009b). However, according to Warren et al. (2008), there is a possibility that these observations are a result of the Hawthorne effect, according to which higher motivation is due to the novelty of technology used in game-based learning. But generally, a student gets motivated via peer learning and peer-to-peer interaction. Moreover, when an instructor teaches the strategy to students, it increases their engagement level along with the motivation. It also encourages the students to accept the game and hence, leads to a better interest in learning the content through games. Another possible factor for the enhancement of motivation can be the competitive factor included in the setting instead of the game. The presence of a challenge in a game is the major motivation for players. In contrast, recognition is the lowest-ranked motivation irrespective of gender or the number of players in the game (Hainey et al., 2011).

Even though the researchers mentioned above reported many positive effects on affective learning outcomes of GBL, Huizenga et al. (2009) did not find any differences between the students playing games for learning and attending the lectures regarding motivation. Moreover, despite the pros and cons of the implementation of game-based learning in pedagogical practices, some researchers do not even consider motivation and game-based learning related. According to Chen et al. (2015), there is no significant difference between students who “use games in solitary or collaborative experiences, in terms of learning motivation.” Also, Wouters et al. (2013) performed meta-analytic techniques to find out whether game-based learning methods are more effective and motivating rather than traditional instructional methods. They found serious games to be more effective in terms of learning and retention but less motivating compared to traditional instructional methods. Furthermore, the change in students’ motivation can be related to the type of games or simulations used for learning. It is evident from various research studies that the design of the games can also lead to a reduction in motivation in students. For example, instructional games, if not designed optimally, can result in a reduced motivation in students (Malone et al., 1987; Paas et al., 2005).

But do we think whether these observations are completely correct? Looking at the positive effects listed above, I don’t think all of these observations give us a complete point of view. Despite the negative impact of game-based learning practices, the positive impact of it still outweighs the other. In order to incorporate game-based learning properly in the classrooms, educators and parents shall be willing to cooperate in letting their children or students enjoy and learn through games. Video games could be an intrinsic part of education as they teach cognitive, science, and technological skills along with providing the user the fun, motivation, and interaction it requires. However, to accomplish this goal, it is required to give weight to the negative impact of GBL also and keep them in check. For example, if some students find the task to be very challenging or beyond their ability to complete it, then their more capable peers and teachers can help them out so that those students can avoid boredom and frustration caused by the task. Another possible solution to successfully implement Game-Based Learning in the modern-day education can be by keeping a check on the time for which a student is learning via a game or a simulation. Moreover, the creators of the educational or serious games may play a vital role in making GBL successful as they can include the necessary and important elements in a game, which motivates the student to learn and have a positive effect on his/her learning. Ultimately, the learning outcomes of students in a game-based environment can, therefore, be further enhanced by keeping in mind both the positive and negative impact of Game-Based Learning on the students.


1. This negative effect of Game-Based Learning is taken from the Fandom Wiki page on “Negative Effect of Games,” which talks about the different negative effects related to video games.
2. This happened during the mass shootings in the US 8 months ago. Donald Trump blamed video games for mass shootings, but according to, the research does not support that. Also, see the actual news here.
3. For example, Divjak and Tomić (2011) show that computer games impact mathematical learning, revealing the positive effect of games on student learning outcomes. 4. Edutainment combines the words "education" and "entertainment." It refers to any form of entertainment that is educational. The goal of edutainment is to make learning enjoyable and fun.
Read more about edutainment here.


1. Anderson, C., & Bushman, B. (2001). Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature. Psychological Science, 12(5), 353-359.
2. Bellotti, F., Kapralos, B., Lee, K., Moreno-Ger, P., & Berta, R. (2013). Assessment in and of serious games: An overview. Advances in Human-Computer Interaction, 1.
3. Bolliger, D. U., Mills, D., White, J., & Kohyama, M. (2015). Japanese students’ perceptions of digital game use for English-language learning in higher education. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 53(3), 384–408 0735633115600806.
4. Carenys, J., & Moya, S. (2016). Digital game-based learning in accounting and business education. Accounting Education, 25(6), 598-651.
5. Charlier, N., Ott, M., Remmele, B., & Whitton N. (2012). Not just for children: game-based learning for older adults. European Conference on Games Based Learning, Cork, Ireland, 102- 108.
6. Chen, C. H., Wang, K. C., & Lin, Y. H. (2015). The Comparison of solitary and collaborative modes of game-based learning on Students' science learning and motivation. Educational Technology & Society, 18(2), 237–248.
7. Cowley, B., Fantato, M., Jennett, C., Ruskov, M., & Ravaja, N. (2013). Learning when serious: Psychophysiological evaluation of a technology-enhanced learning game. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 17(1), 3–16.
8. Cowley, B., Heikura, T., & Ravaja, N. (2013). Learning loops - interactions between guided reflection and experience-based learning in a serious game activity. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 29(4), 348–370.
9. Cowley, B., Ravaja, N., & Heikura, T. (2013). Cardiovascular physiology predicts learning effects in a serious game activity. Computers & Education, 60(1) 299–309.
10. Dankbaar, M. E. W., Alsma, J., Jansen, E. E. H., van Merrienboer, J. J. G., van Saase, J. L. C. M., & Schuit, S. C. E. (2016). An experimental study on the effects of a simulation game on students’ clinical cognitive skills and motivation. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 21(3), 505–521.
11. de Wit-Zuurendonk, L. D., & Oei, S. G. (2011). Serious gaming in women’s health care. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 118(s3), 17–21.
12. Divjak, B., & Tomić, D. (2011). The impact of game-based learning on the achievement of learning goals and motivation for learning mathematics-literature review. Journal of Information and Organizational Sciences, 35(1), 15–30.
13. Fu, K., Hainey, T., & Baxter, G. (2016). A systematic literature review to identify empirical evidence on the use of computer games in business education and training. European Conference on Games Based Learning, Cork, Ireland, 232.
14. Hainey, T., Connolly, T. M., Stansfield, M., & Boyle, E. A. (2011). Evaluation of a game to teach requirements collection and analysis in software engineering at tertiary education level. Computers & Education, 56(1), 21–35.
15. Halpern, D. F., Millis, K., Graesser, A. C., Butler, H., Forsyth, C., & Cai, Z. (2012). Operation ARA: A computerized learning game that teaches critical thinking and scientific reasoning. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 7(2), 93–100.
16. Hostetter, O. (2002). Video Games - The Necessity of Incorporating Video Games as Part of Constructivist Learning. Department of Educational Technology. Retrieved from http://game- part-of-constructivist-learning/.
17. Huizenga, J., Admiraal, W., Akkerman, S., & ten Dam, G. (2009). Mobile game-based learning in secondary education: engagement, motivation and learning in a mobile city game. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25(4), 332-344.
18. Ke, F. (2008). Computer games application within alternative classroom goal structures: cognitive, metacognitive, and affective evaluation. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56, 539-556.
19. Lameras, P., Arnab, S., Dunwell, I., Stewart, C., Clarke, S., & Petridis, P. (2016). Essential features of serious games design in higher education: Linking learning attributes to game mechanics. British Journal of Educational Technology. doi:10.1111/bjet.12467.
20. Lancaster, R. J. (2014). Serious game simulation as a teaching strategy in pharmacology. Clinical Simulation in Nursing, 10(3), e129–e137.
21. Liao, Y. W., Huang, Y. M., & Wang, Y. S. (2015). Factors affecting students’ continued usage intention toward business simulation games an empirical study. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 53(2), 260–283.
22. Liu, C. C., Cheng, Y. B., & Huang, C. W. (2011). The effect of simulation games on the learning of computational problem-solving. Computers & Education, 57(3), 1907–1918.
23. Malone, T.W., Lepper, M.R. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. R.E. Snow & M.J. Farr (Eds.), Aptitudes, Learning and Instruction, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
24. Merchant, Z., Goetz, E. T., Cifuentes, L., Keeney-Kennicutt, W., & Davis, T. J. (2014). Effectiveness of virtual reality-based instruction on students’ learning outcomes in K-12 and higher education: A meta-analysis. Computers & Education, 70, 29–40. 25. Okan, Z. (2003). Edutainment: Is learning at risk? British Journal of Educational Technology, 34(3), 255-264.
26. Paas, F., Tuovinen, J.E., van Merriënboer, & Darabi, A. (2005). A motivational perspective on the relation between mental effort and performance: Optimizing learners’ involvement in instructional conditions. Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(3), 25-33.
27. Papastergiou, M. (2009b). Digital game-based learning in high school computer science education: impact on educational effectiveness and school motivation. Computer & Education, 5(1), 1-12.
28. Shin, S., Park, J. H., & Kim, J. H. (2015). Effectiveness of patient simulation in nursing education: Meta-analysis. Nurse Education Today, 35(1), 176–182.
29. Tiwari, S. R., Nafees, L., & Krishnan, O. (2014). Simulation as a pedagogical tool: Measurement of impact on perceived effective learning. The International Journal of Management Education, 12(3), 260–270.
30. Tobias, S., Fletcher, J., & Wind, A. (2014). Game-based learning. Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, Springer New York, 485-503.
31. Tsekleves, E., Cosmas, J., & Aggoun, A. (2014). Benefits, barriers and guideline recommendations for the implementation of serious games in education for stakeholders and policymakers. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(1), 164–183.
32. Vasquez, M., Penafiel, M., Cevallos, A., Zaldumbide, J., & Vasquez, D. (2017). Impact of Game-Based Learning on students in Higher Education. International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies, Barcelona, Spain, 4356-4363.
33. Vlachopoulos, D., Makri, A. (2017). The Effect of Games and Simulations on Higher Education: A Systematic Literature Review. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 14(22).
34. Warren, S. J, Dondlinger, M. J., & Barab, S. A. (2008). A MUVE towards PBL writing: Effects of a digital learning environment designed to improve elementary student writing. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(1), 113-140.
35. Woo, J. C. (2014). Digital game-based learning supports student motivation, cognitive success, and performance outcomes. Educational Technology & Society, 17(3), 291–307.
36. Wouters, P., Van Nimwegen, C., Van Oostendorp, H., & Van Der Spek, E. D. (2013). A meta-analysis of the cognitive and motivational effects of serious games. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(2), 249–265.