Using Video Games to Effectively Teach Social Studies

Oregon Trail Video Game Graphic (1974)

By Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

With the advancement of science in the twenty-first century there is an increasing push for the integration of technology in school curriculum and instruction. One area of technology that has seen much growth is the video game industry; it is a multi-billion dollar industry. Home gaming entertainment systems have evolved and changed since their debut in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Systems like the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision had graphics that were so primitive that they are considered laughable in comparison to modern systems such as PlayStation, X-Box and Nintendo Switch.

Video games have other uses besides mere entertainment. For example, the military has long used gaming for combat training and simulation and for flight simulation. Another growing use of video games is in the realm of education. Using video games for educational purposes is nothing new, many people of a certain generation remember Oregon Trail and early math video games of the late twentieth century. However, many teachers do not realize the incredible role video games can play in the classroom today, especially in the area of social studies. This article will offer resources, lesson ideas and how video games may be used effectively and creatively in the classroom. There are also a few links to social studies themed video games that can be played online. At the end of the article are questions for discussion and reflection surrounding effective uses of video games in the classroom.

Lesson Ideas and Resources- Using Video Games to Teach Social Studies

Exactly How To Teach With Video Games In The Classroom
Six Video Games You Can Teach With Tomorrow
Teacher Makes Classes Seem More Like Video Games
How to Incorporate Popular Video Games into a Lesson Plan
Video Games as Historical Content

Videos showing Sample Social Studies Themed Games and How Games can be used In the Classroom

Video Games in the Social Studies
Assassin’s Creed Origins Cinematic Trailer (Julius Caesar & Cleopatra)
Total War: Three Kingdoms Announcement Cinematic Trailer
Assassin’s Creed III: E3 Cinematic Trailer
Assassin’s Creed 3 Gameplay Walkthrough Part 3 – Welcome to Boston
Valiant Hearts E3 Trailer [US]
Valiant Hearts: The Great War Walkthrough PART 1
King’s Quest

Social Studies Themed Video Games to Play

Airman’s Challenge- US Air force Game
Mission US
Arcane The Stone Circle – Episode 7
On the Trail of Captain John Smith
The Following Games Are Published By the History Channel
Meet the President
Social Studies Video Games
Oregon Trail


What are the world’s Top 5 video game markets? A Foolish Take
Global Games Market Value Rising to $134.9bn in 2018
History of Video Games- National Geographic
History of Video Games
Video Game: The Ralph Baer Prototypes and Electronic Games
How Video Game Systems Work
How the US military is using ‘violent, chaotic, beautiful’ video games to train soldiers
Uncle Sam Wants You — To Play Video Games for the US Army
Exceptional Military Video Games Worth Binging This Holiday Season Gaming: The Air Force’s Newest Recruitment Tool
Let the Games Begin: Entertainment Meets Education Video games, once confiscated in class, are now a key teaching tool — if they’re done right.
Teaching History With Digital Historical Games: An Introduction to the Field and Best Practice

Discussion Questions:
1. What are your immediate reactions to the resources and articles?
2. What resources above stand out to you the most? What surprises you? What do you find interesting?
3. What resources or lessons might you like to see in a classroom? What would you implement/try out in your teaching?
4. What technology, gaming tools or media have you used in your classroom?
5. What kinds of technological resources do you find most helpful in your classroom?
6. What are some factors that make a video game an effective tool in teaching social studies?


  1. Whenever I think of video games I think of the negative aspects of them, for example violence. They have a negative connotation to them for violence and for the amount of time that kids spend playing them. I never realized how many good video games there are out there and how they could be positive things for kids. The idea that some are educational and they are very useful in the classrooms is awesome. From reading this, I do think that they should be used in the classrooms as educational tools for the students.

  2. The advancement of technology is something that we, as a society, should be proud of and keep pushing forward with STEAM programs. This being said, technology can be an incredible tool in the classroom, but it is also important not to use it in excess. It is important to remember that, as teachers, we cannot control or keep track of how much screen time students get outside of the classroom. Because of this, we should limit the extraneous addition of close up screen time within the classroom.

  3. My immediate reaction to this article is how cool that teacher would be to their students. I love how Assassins Creed is in there. I know Assassins creed is historically based but it has a lot of killing in it though but the again so did our history. I am not a teacher nor getting a degree in teaching but i would use that to explain the time and the historical references behind the game. If you can teach from it why can’t people use it? In a lot of my classes growing up we used so many different gaming websites like braingames.come or cool math, stuff like that to make learning appeal to us. My ruling on video games in the classroom is you have to be able to teach and give valuable lessons. If you can’t do that you should be allowed to use it.

  4. It is almost every kids dream to get to learn through video games. I think it is super important to implement video game learning resources into the curriculum because it would help get kids excited about learning and make it more fun for them.I found the article about how to teach with video games to be interesting. It can be hard to implement such things because the important part is making sure the students are actually learning from it and this article has good ideas on how to properly do it. I would definitely like to use video games as a teacher when teaching social studies because when I was a student that was a subject that I found hard to be interested in and I think video games would help for students like me.

  5. The integration of technology into modern learning environments can be extremely beneficial. Kids use visual association as their main form of learning so creating games that interact and appear similar to the popular games of the time could be a great idea. That kind of interaction leads to associations toward fun and enjoyment. Kids need to be entertained but it is still possible to do both.

  6. The best way to teach students is to keep them interested and participating in the lesson. technology grows everyday so it only natural to use it to our advantage. students don’t consider video games and will learn with out even realizing it. i fell that doing these things will help them learn better because when students are interested they will remember the information more. this is one of many things that i would love to teach about because as they are playing the game of the organ trail you can give them facts about the organ trail and how difficult it was.

  7. I also believe video games are a good tool for teaching. I believe it should be used as enrichment in an area of study. As a child, I used a leap frog version of a gameboy for math enrichment. I was efficient in multiplication by 2nd grade. Kahoot is also an engaging game for students to retaining information. There are even websites where students could make their own video games and trivias.

  8. I’ll start out by saying that I have never really been into video games. However, I do think that using video games in the classroom will be helpful for some students who have difficulty making connections. I know the some therapists use video game like programs to help retrain the human brain. Honestly, I am kind of surprised that it took this long to bring into the classroom. When Chromebooks exploded, everyone had them in their classrooms within a month. I don’t think that the video games should be used in classrooms, but I do think that they will help with different learning styles.

  9. As a huge video game nerd myself and a visual learner, I definitely would have been more enticed to learn while playing games. This could help so many children focus more on what they are learning. I have yet to see this concept cross into social studies, however as a kid they did use this technique quite a bit for math at my school. A lot of social studies is about memorization and the stimulation of the games might help with that, and be more fun overall

  10. Just as with the podcasts, using games to reach your students is an exceptional way to get them involved in a way that is on their level. So many kids play games for fun, why not give them something that will help them learn what they are supposed to? Technology is growing at a rapid pace and just as with other professions, teaching is one that needs to integrate the latest technology, when at all possible, into their lesson plans. When I was in elementary school, computers weren’t even something that every teacher had in their room. Now, not only every teacher but every student has a laptop in their possession. Keeping up is not only beneficial for the teacher to reach their students, but in the eyes of the student, they’re not actually doing any work, just playing a game. However, the teacher knows the students are getting their content. Seems like a win-win to me.

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