Faculty Member’s Journal Article Ties Game Play to Learning

April 10, 2019

Can playing “Call of Duty,” “Madden NFL” or “Dungeons and Dragons” help you better understand the concepts in a college-level General Psychology class?

That’s the question posed by Psychology faculty member Dr. Dianne Zielinski, whose article “Can Playing Games Help Students Master Concepts from General Psychology Classes?” was recently published in the International Journal of Game-Based Learning.

The article outlines the final project Zielinski has offered students in her General Psychology course since 2014.

At the start of the semester, students are asked to choose a multi-player online or board game and then dedicate at least 30 minutes each week to game play. The game must require the player/student to interact with a virtual world and allow for communication between players. Those parameters, she said, could apply to an online game like FIFA or even a board game like Monopoly.

“The project is a way for students to apply psychological principles to their everyday life,” she said. “Games are a convenient platform to discuss these concepts and for many students it’s something they’ve been exposed to their whole lives. The assignment is really to delve under the ‘only for fun’ surface to discover what’s happening from a psychological perspective.”

In their final report, which is worth 25 percent of the total grade, students are asked to discuss their game play over nine key topics, from human development and behavioral principles to motivation and intelligence.

In class, for example, Zielinski’s students discuss a variety of theories of human development, from Jean Piaget to Erik Erickson. In their final project they’re asked to use those theories to discuss the game’s age rating and whether that rating is appropriate. They’re asked to describe what parts of the brain - the limbic system, frontal lobe, mid brain – are active during game play and why, and even describe how the gameplay they experienced may or may not help someone with psychological disorder like anxiety or depression.

Zielinski said she has attended the Games in Education conference that was held in the Capital Region for a decade or more. It was that conference that helped spur her interest in matching learning with game play.