Video games are a particularly popular and widespread form of technology. The aim of this file is to offer avenues for reflection and advice to teachers who would like to integrate them effectively into their teaching.

by Mikaël Roberge
Université de Sherbrooke, author of a dissertation on Minecraft and of a graduate course entitled "Video games in teaching-learning"

picture : "Maker Faire 2017”(CC BT-SA 2.0) by fabola

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The rise of information and communication technologies (ICT) in recent years has certainly transformed the way of teaching. The social and economic contexts having themselves undergone significant changes, it is normal that the field of education follows the rhythm.

TheOECD spoke already at the turn of the 2000s of an increasingly connected society where the exchange of information and knowledge is the key to social and economic development. In recent years, we have seen the effects that these technologies can have on our society. We only have to think about the ease of communication that Facebook allows, the distribution possibilities offered by YouTube, not to mention online sales sites like Amazon. Far from being the only platforms, these have nevertheless had a considerable impact on our daily lives.

Video games are also a particularly popular and widespread form of technology. The aim of this file is to offer avenues for reflection and advice to teachers who would like to integrate them effectively into their teaching. Although the main topic is serious games, we will also cover other ways to integrate digital games in the classroom.



Video games, serious games, gamification? Unravel the main terms

Although serious play is not specifically mentioned in the training programs of schools in Quebec when ICT is presented, it should be noted that serious play can still be considered as an ICT. According to the OECD, video games, whether serious or commercial, are ICT just like computer programs, audio and visual media and other websites. We hear about the gamification of teaching or gamification in English; is it a synonym for serious games? Here we will see some distinctions.

What distinguishes video games from serious games

The very term, "serious game", is in a way a oxymoron. On the one hand, there is the fun, frivolous aspect of "pretending"; on the other hand, austerity and the requirement of "for real". Serious game, make no mistake, should not be synonymous with educational game, because all games have educational potential; we will deal with this in the next chapter. It is not because we add the term "serious" to "game" that it allows learning. Just as one can learn by playing a commercial video game, it is possible not to learn anything by playing a serious game.

The real distinction between serious games and video games lies in the intention behind the objectives of the game. In the case of serious games, there is an educational intention. In other words, in the very conception of the serious game, we aim to lead the user to develop new skills, exercise certain skills, bring them to consider new perspectives, etc.. In short, the aims of these games are often very similar to those pursued in class and the content similar to those presented in the training guides. It is in this sense that they are particularly interesting, targeting the content well while promoting engagement. In the case of commercial video games, we focus much more on the experience of the player. Obviously, there will still be learning achieved, but it will not necessarily be compatible with that of the school. For example, the player of Mario bros learns quickly enough that if he does not accelerate enough before jumping, his character will not be able to pass to the other side of the ravine. However, this same game can very well serve as an introduction to the concepts of acceleration and kinetic energy in physics with a teaching that goes in this direction. A commercial video game can allow learning with good support, even if the content is not at the heart of the game design. We will deal with possibilities other than those related to serious games in a future chapter. Note that in this folder, we use the term digital game to refer to both commercial video games and serious games.


Maybe you've heard of teaching gamification before. The term gamification is not unique to the field of education; in fact, it comes from the field of marketing and designates logics aimed at improving the consumption experience. Loyalty cards, point systems and business currency are gamification principles in the marketing sense that aim to promote consumption in a given place. As for the field of education, we could say that gamification is the addition of playful mechanics to an educational setting in order to make it more attractive. Although gamification is akin to the emulation system (points system, rewards, consequences, etc.), it is not to be confused with the simple emulation system which is much closer to its namesake in the marketing world. . Gamification is the integration into the teaching of different postures (rules, roles, actions, etc.) and artefacts (point system, objects used in games, video games, etc.) aimed at adding a playful touch. to a situation that is not necessarily so at the start.

To give a concrete example, a teacher who would use a board game such as a trivia game to assess the knowledge of his students would deploy principles of gamification, because he would integrate rules and actions in the form of a game in a context that does not is not necessarily a game to begin with. So we can integrate gamification principles without necessarily using technology.


Why use digital games in the classroom?

Whether video or serious, is it legitimate to use the game in the classroom? How is the frivolous aspect of the game compatible with the goal pursued by the school? It is not because we associate play with a hobby that it is an empty activity, quite the contrary; games in general are activities that can be very profitable in a teaching context.

The benefits of learning through play

The benefits of play aren't just limited to letting off steam at recess and lunchtime. Play has an essential role in healthy development, and UNESCO also recognizes play as a fundamental right of the child. The game is generally well regarded in the school environment and is used mainly in preschool and elementary school. However, there is a tendency to abandon it in secondary and post-secondary education. However, whether you are a toddler, teenager or even retired, play is a fantastic engine for learning and development. The game is an activity requiring a high level of cognitive engagement on the part of the participants who must deploy different knowledge to progress. Placing blocks in a precise order and following certain rules or outsmarting your opponent by correctly placing their pieces on a game board are examples of fun tasks that require very specific knowledge. This is a context where participants are allowed to experiment with possible solutions, to discover new ways of doing things and even to fail without too many consequences. It is necessary for the player to understand and follow the rules to achieve good self-regulation.

Sometimes these are very complex tasks, we only have to think about the high level of concentration and the calculations that the game of chess requires. The complexity of the games can be compared to different academic tasks that we offer to the students. Thus, by choosing the right games, it is possible to achieve objectives comparable to those targeted by traditional tasks. In the case of serious games, the objectives established are generally consistent with those of the school, whether we are talking about essential knowledge or transversal skills. These games are therefore particularly interesting to use in the classroom.


Digital games and their benefits

How do you relate to video games? Maybe you consume this type of media, maybe you know next to nothing about it. Anyway, we can see it, we can see it, at home and in class, several students play video games or at least talk about it. According to American statistics, up to 91 % of children aged 2 to 17 would play video games on a regular basis (NPD group, 2011). Today, about 80 % of American households are said to have game consoles or games on their computers.

Should these games, which already occupy an important place at home, also have their space at school? Opinions are divided. While some are for less “over-stimulating” approaches, others see video games as an activity from which many learnings can arise. It is also a good way to update some teaching methods using media that is meaningful to students.


In any case, learning through digital games (in English, Digital game based learning) is a means of teaching that interests both researchers in the educational sciences and those working in educational circles. We see digital games as a tool with unique potential. Indeed, by its nature, it adapts to whoever uses it, thus offering several opportunities that traditional methods do not necessarily allow. The digital game user is much more active when compared to other media, such as books and videos, in which information is “simply” presented. Indeed, in digital games, players have the opportunity to interact with information.

The user takes actions that have repercussions and receives immediate feedback from the game. In addition, the games are generally designed with a progressive level of difficulty so that the user is constantly challenged. However, if he has not achieved a level of proficiency necessary for the game, he will have the opportunity to start over.

Moreover, the game allows you to experiment, to make tests and even to make mistakes without too many consequences. Since gambling is a frivolous activity, failure does not have the same impact as in other circumstances; so to speak, losing or failing is part of the game. It also arouses strong emotions, thereby affecting the pupil's perception of the task. Indeed, the emotions that we feel when carrying out a task have an impact on the feeling of self-efficacy, that is to say the way in which we feel competent and motivated when faced with a task. . As this feeling can in turn influence the emotions experienced during the completion of a task, games in general are a good way to encourage motivation in a given subject.

In summary, several methods or ways of doing things known for a long time as being beneficial in teaching are present in digital games: proposing varied tasks, offering choice and control over the task, giving rapid feedback, allowing the possibility of make mistakes, encourage motivation, etc. For these reasons alone, the use of digital games in the classroom is perfectly legitimate.

How to integrate serious games in the classroom?

This section covers the main things to consider when it comes to bringing serious play into the classroom. In this overview, we will explore different avenues to guide thinking through the stages before, during and after the game.

Otherwise, a study reports carried out with around 500 teachers from different countries using digital games in the classroom revealed that the main difficulties encountered were to link games to content, lack of computer equipment, organization of time and the cost of games. We therefore present some recommendations to guide those who would like to integrate serious games in the classroom while avoiding some of these pitfalls.

Where to start: determining learning objectives

In the classroom, when using a serious game, it is imperative, as with any other activity, tohave specific learning goals in mind. As these are the objectives that dictate the nature of the task as well as the support of the teacher, it is important that they be well established from the start. An activity that aims to explore the contribution of the great mathematicians of history may not be conducted in the same way as an activity that aims to decode key elements of a problem-solving situation and use the correct mathematical processes.

It takes a good knowledge of the games used in order to know which disciplinary knowledge and which transversal skills are worked on in these games. It is important for a teacher to be familiar with the material he uses with his students, and the same is true when this material is a game. Without necessarily having spent whole days there, it is necessary to have tried the game at least to know how to play it and know its playability. Thus, it becomes much easier to determine if the objectives of the game are compatible with the objectives of the class, therefore if the game is relevant in a given context. It should be noted that some serious games present the knowledge that is put into practice quite clearly, thus facilitating the teacher's work. This first step obviously requires knowing certain games; we can therefore say that there is a step prior to this first step. To help you find serious games that will meet your needs, we've put together a list of games and gaming sites in the next chapter.

It is also necessary know the playful artifacts that are deployed in the game. Any digital game has a design that aims to give the player a specific experience. We then speak of playability, adaptation of the English term gameplay. By gameplay, we mean at the same time the way of playing, the rules, the objectives to be reached as well as the actions necessary to progress in the game. We must be aware of these elements, because they are the ones that make the game interesting and motivating. According to research, different components of gameplay make digital gaming particularly engaging:

  • The game allows players to interact and socialize with each other, whether for the purpose of collaboration or competition (Lenhart, 2008);
  • The game allows sensory stimulation (images, music, actions, etc.) or emotional (presence of a narrative framework, interesting characters, etc.) (Tisseron, 2013);
  • The game allows interaction with its components (places, objects, people, etc.), freedom of manipulation, the simulation of an element of real life or even problem solving (Hamlen, 2013);
  • The game presents a progression (making a character progress, level presence, construction, etc.) (Hamlen, 2013).

Usually, the more components there are, the more chance there is that the game will attract interest. It is important to ask questions like: what components of the gameplay are present? What will the students' experience be like? How will the elements of the game affect the student? What does the student have to accomplish as a task? How will this achieve the learning objectives? It might be interesting to think about these questions as you become familiar with the chosen games.

What to anticipate: organize the class, support the task

Once we have clarified the objectives, we must think about how the game will be integrated into the classroom. To do this, of course, you have to think about the space and when the game will be used. What technological equipment is available? Is familiarization with the game necessary? How do you access the game? How is the game handled? Are there any tasks related to the game (recording the number of errors or the final score, for example)? Here are some organizational questions that may seem simple, but on which it is important to think before starting in order to avoid derailments.

Thereafter the chosen parameters of the activity should be clearly stated to the students, even before starting it, as much as possible. Since some games are particularly immersive, it can be more difficult to get the same level of attention from students while playing.

Although play is a very interesting tool to use in a learning context, the fact that the student plays and progresses well does not necessarily mean that the student is learning. It is important to remember that the game is in no way a substitute for the teacher; it remains a task proposed by the latter. Like other activities, the teacher should support its activity to meet the specific needs of its students.

It is necessary, among other things, to think about the current level of the pupils, what they know and understand concepts which will be discussed. Knowing this, the game in question must offer an interesting challenge, neither too easy nor too difficult cognitively. Let us recall here the principle of the proximal development zone, a principle often mentioned in education, according to which a task that is too easy leads to boredom, while a task that is too complex leads to stress and disengagement.

The games are normally built with a progressive level of difficulty, adapting to that of the student; they help him when he is having difficulty or increase the complexity to keep a challenge interesting. If the teacher judges that the game does not adapt well enough to the student, he can always intervene outside the game to adapt the task himself. For example, he could create a help sheet on paper to help the student if the game is too difficult, or ask to complete a task in a limited time to increase the challenge if the student is too easy. Other actions can be taken for the same purpose depending on the nature of the game, such as setting a minimum threshold of points to be reached in a game, requiring to succeed without losing a life, making the student start at a level of difficulty. higher, etc. This obviously varies depending on the nature of the game.


What to evaluate: traces of the game

In his book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, James Paul Gee explains in detail the nature of rating in a video game, which differs from classic rating. Among other things, he presents that in digital games, there is no real summative evaluation such as the tests and exams to which we are used in the school environment. The reason is relatively simple: games do not need specific times to perform an evaluation since the player is constantly being evaluated.

Contrary to the white box of an exercise sheet on which it is written "leave the traces of your approach", the development of the pupil through the game inevitably leaves traces from which it is possible to have an idea of the level of knowledge or mastery of a concept. The nature of the traces left varies depending on the game itself and can take the form of a score, a level reached, the number of errors made, etc. There can also be several types of traces for a single game. The teacher can establish beforehand the traces he wishes to keep and which testify to the level of understanding of the pupils. The teacher could, for example, note the level reached or the time required to complete a task.

Some examples of serious games for the class

Here we bring together some serious games that could be interesting for different subjects. We feature both full games and sites with a plethora of games. Note that while most are free, it may be necessary to fork out for some.

Web games

MATHadore Café (TFO)  


Four small games related to as many different concepts of mathematics allowing manipulation related to the Venn diagram, friezes, currency and fractions. It is possible to vary the level of difficulty for each of these games.

Science in play (CREO)

Mathematics, science and technology

This “massively multiplayer role-playing game” type game takes place in a scientific universe in which the player moves and evolves with other players through the intermediary of characters. The player can choose to travel to different islands, each dedicated to a specific scientific area. Quests and games are offered on each of the islands and aim to familiarize the player with the scientific field in question. The tasks allow to accumulate points (neurons) which are necessary to advance the character.

Your word is at stake (Université de Moncton, National Film Board)

French (Language of instruction and second language), geography

A series of puzzle-type games (riddles) aims to allow the discovery of the richness of the vocabulary and of the French-speaking culture of Canada. These games are great for discovering new words and colorful expressions, in addition to visiting a multitude of regions.

Living in the days of fortified castles (Canopé Académie de Caen)

Also offered on: Google play, App Store

This simulation-type game offers a three-dimensional environment replicating a 12th century citadel. It may be interesting for a teacher to move around in this environment with his students to discover this medieval structure. A feature allows the player to go on a treasure hunt, leading them to discover the way of life of the time.


DragonBox Algebra 5+ (WeWantToKnow AS) In addition to this, you will need to know more about it.

Offered on: Microsoft Store, Google play, App Store

The Dragon box game is a very colorful puzzle game that allows the manipulation of algebraic equations. However, rather than manipulating numbers, letters or operations, the player first manipulates small tiles comprising pictograms according to algebraic logic. The goal is to isolate the box, the unknown, by swinging each side of the painting. As the level of difficulty increases, the puzzles offered incorporate more and more algebraic signs and logic.

Domino Création's suite of applications  

Offered on: App Store

These applications (Lecto, Ludik, Mixo, Orthografix, PhonoFolie, Planète Pronouns) offer various fun tasks related to learning oral and written language. In many cases, it is possible to structure more specific tasks to target certain difficulties.

Slice Fractions (Ululab)  

Offered on: Google play, App Store

Slice Fractions is a puzzle-type game in which the player is asked to manipulate two-dimensional environments by cutting different shapes. The object of the game is to allow a small mammoth to advance in each level by specifically cutting rocks and glaciers to open a passage. The game allows the user to manipulate fractions in a very dynamic and fun way.

Other interesting sites for games

CCDMD website (Collegial center for the development of teaching materials)


Already known to many, the site is full of material aimed at improving written French. There is an “educational games” section which includes various games for practicing different dimensions of the language.


Another well-known site which also offers nearly ten games for French, mathematics and geography.


The site is a directory of activities and games for all primary and secondary school subjects. The subjects are organized by subject, which greatly facilitates the search.


Offered on: Google play, App Store

This software allows you to design your quizzes yourself. Some options give you the possibility to add a playful touch to your questionnaires. Socrative is also available on tablet and smartphone.

Game for a change

Game for a change is an organization that aims to bring together different social and environmental games. We are not targeting French or mathematics, but more personal development and civic awareness.


Using commercial video games in the classroom

Play, as we have seen, does not need to be educational to enable learning; gaming in general is a great learning engine. One option for serious games in the classroom is the use of commercial games.

According to the study How are digital games used in school?, conducted with teachers from different European countries, commercial video games are generally preferred over serious games, being more versatile and less boring, according to them.

Indeed, some serious games are just too serious, losing sight of the playful dimension. Isabela Granic, an author interested in digital games in education, uses the metaphor of “chocolate covered broccoli” to refer to games that look good on the outside, but are, in a way, exercise books in disguise.

That being said, using commercial games in the classroom requires a bit more coaching. Remember that the primary intention of these games is not educational, so it is up to the teacher to highlight relevant learning and knowledge in the game. All the same, there are several excellent games whose contents can be reused by the teacher. Here are some games that are particularly interesting in this sense. Note that for these commercial games, an “Edu” version intended for classes is also available (or will be soon).


Also offered on: Google play, App Store, Xbox one and PS4

Minecraft is probably the most used school game around the world. Since the release of its educational version in 2016, MinecraftEdu, it is even easier to use it in the classroom. This game is of the “sandbox” type; it is in a way a virtual Lego game in which the player can build and manipulate their environment as they see fit.


Although math, natural science, and geography are the easiest subjects to work with in the game, virtually any subject can be worked on with a little creativity on the part of the teacher. As the game is very malleable, a teacher can easily work on geometry by asking his students to reproduce their school to scale or ask to create a guide to accompany the game to work on the descriptive text. There are no concepts in the game beforehand, it is the teacher who must make them emerge.

Just as a teacher can have the perimeter of the classroom measured, he or she can have the perimeter of a house measured in Minecraft. The difference is that students have the opportunity to do manipulations, such as changing the length of a wall to see the effect on the perimeter and establishing the relationship between the length of the sides and the outline themselves. In addition, using a well-known and popular game helps to make the activity interesting and meaningful to those who play it.


SimCity is a series comprising several titles whose origins date back to the early 1990s. In this simulation and management game, you have to build and administer a city with all its services. Several tasks must be accomplished by the player, from the organization of the territory to the management of the budget, including the consideration of citizen complaints. These are all problem-solving situations requiring knowledge of different kinds that can be worked on with the students. The SimCityEdu version makes it easier for teachers to use the game.


Civilization is a game series whose sixth installment was released in 2016 for its twenty-fifth anniversary. It is a real-time strategy game in which the player must evolve a civilization through time. He must succeed in making his civilization grow by prospering scientifically, culturally or militarily. As other rival civilizations develop rapidly, the player must find an effective strategy not to head for its decline. As the game picks up real civilizations, this is a good way to see how these work and revisit the milestones in their history. The CivilizationEdu version could be on sale from fall 2017.

Bring out knowledge

The recommendations made earlier about integrating serious games into the classroom apply very well to commercial video games. However, since knowledge is not at the heart of game design, the teacher must bring it out through an activity that uses the game. For example, with the game SimCity, we could ask the students to organize neighborhoods. in specific proportions to work on area and fractions. Or ask students to write a letter to their virtual citizens to announce a new municipal service.

The teacher must ensure that the task he proposes allows the student to make connections between what he does in the game and what he is learning. There are many ways to achieve this and are limited only to the imagination and creativity of the teacher.

However, in the activity built around commercial video games, it is important to keep a balance between playful elements and academic knowledge. An activity that is “too playful”, which does not rely enough on knowledge, risks limiting the learning of this knowledge. Conversely, an activity "too serious" could limit motivation and commitment.

Creating video games at school: an interdisciplinary activity

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has established that conventional compartmentalized teaching methods no longer meet the needs of today's students (Tardif, 1992). Interdisciplinarity would be an approach much more suited to our reality as well as to our way of learning (idem).

In this sense, the creation of video games can be an activity calling on several subjects, thus offering this interdisciplinarity. Commercial video game companies call on experts from different fields, such as programmers, screenwriters or graphic designers, to make popular games. Even for smaller projects, such as making a game at school, several areas are involved, offering the opportunity to work on different subjects. Mathematical principles in game programming, scriptwriting and character development in French, as well as art through visual design, are just a few examples.

Do you know Scratch and Unity? These are two free interfaces (basically) for designing video games or programs.


Scratch can very well be used to carry out activities from elementary school. This is a very well made and free interface allowing you to learn the logic of programming. You can enter commands to create, for example, interactive images or small rudimentary games. P3, S1, S2


Several commercial games sold today are designed with Unity. This software allows you to create simple or complex games, in 2D or 3D. Very versatile, it also allows you to carry out larger-scale projects; however, it requires a greater investment of time.

Learning to design video games in a school context is something that already exists in Quebec. For example, the video game company Ubisoft, recognized worldwide and well established here, in 2016 supported secondary schools in a video game creation project. There is also the Phare high school in Sherbrooke, in the Eastern Townships, which offers a course in video game design. It just goes to show that this kind of project is within everyone's reach and fits very well with the training program of the Quebec school.


Finally, remember that although the game is a very interesting tool to use in a learning context, the fact that the student plays and progresses well does not necessarily mean that the student is learning. It is important to remember that the game is in no way a substitute for the teacher; it remains a task proposed by the latter. Like other activities, the teacher should support his activity to meet the specific needs of his students.

That said, several methods or classic ways of doing things in teaching are present in digital games: offering a variety of tasks, offering choices and control over the task, giving rapid feedback, leaving the possibility of making mistakes, promoting motivation. , etc. For these reasons alone, the use of digital play in the classroom can certainly be an asset.

If you want to learn more about all the possibilities that digital games, gamification and game design in the classroom offer, we recommend the book Digital games and learning by Professor Margarida Romero. The book is aimed at the various players in the school environment, parents, as well as professionals in the recreational field who are interested in teaching through digital games.


Hamlen, KR (2013). Understanding children's choices and cognition in video game play: A synthesis of three studies. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 221(2), 107-114.

Lenhart, A., Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., Rankin M., A. Evans, C. and Vitak, J. (2008). Teens, video games and civics: Teens gaming experiences are diverse and include significant social interaction and civic engagement. Online : Accessed April 18, 2017.

Tisseron, S. and Khayat, D. (2013), Preliminary validation study of a questionnaire evaluating the type of interaction in video games. Childhood and Adolescent Neuropsychiatry, 61, p. 81–92

Granic, I., Lobel, A. and Engels RC (2013). The benefits of playing video games. American Psychologist, 69(1), 66-78

Tardif N. (1992). In Interdisciplinarity: a way forward. Conference proceedings. Sherbrooke.