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Video Games as Historical Content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. I think using video games to help teach social studies is a very fun and interactive way to teach. Children love video games and it would make them more excited to learn if they are doing something that  they enjoy while they are doing something they enjoy less like learning. 

  2. I decided to read this article because my brothers and I grew up playing video games and still play when we all hang out together. I personally did not know that video games were used in military combat training and simulation for flight simulation. This shows how advanced out technology has become since the days of the Atari and the older Nintendo systems. As for technology in education, I used to play on and other educational sites that targeted math and reading skills. From this article I have gotten resources for social studies’ video games in the classroom. If virtual learning stays in the forefront of education, I will have to utilize resources such as these video games.

  3. I really liked reading about using video games to effectively teach social studies. Growing up I remember getting so excited to play Oregon Trail. I didn’t know it then, but I was learning about how the early settlers lived and the choices they had to make to survive. For children who struggle learning social studies, this is a great way to get them involved and learning at the same time. I also loved the resources and different games Dr. Childs posted. When I was growing up, I only had Oregon trail to play but with the different games that are available today it makes learning even more accessible and fun for all students.

  4. I have never really thought about using video games to help teach social studies, however it could be incredibly useful. This could be a great way to meet students where they are at and get them engaged in the material.

  5. As the world keeps progressing with technology being one of it’s most popular progressions, bringing technology into the classroom will not only keep students engaged but will help aid in retaining information instead of just memorizing facts. Obviously using graphic games such as Assassin’s Creed would be inappropriate for a younger child, but incorporating video games in the classroom will keep their attention on the topic itself.

  6. My first reaction was, “why not”. Since most students these days have playing at least i]one video game in their life, why not use this medium to reach students educationally? But then we have the other side to the coin. What if it’s just a platform to another more unsavory aspect of gaming, the start of the student taking it too far?
    For me I have gone back and forth as to if I think that this is a good thing or not. And as a whole, if you can use something students find entertaining and play without realizing that they are learning by osmosis, then surely that has to be beneficial. I would say that I am 80% sold on the idea.

  7. By incorporating any form of technology into the learning process students are automatically more excited. However, reaching their learning target through something most of them do every day is ideal. Our goal as educators is to make lifelong learners and foster a love for learning, these are both achieved when meeting the student’s wants and needs. Students want to be engaged and this is a great tool for that!!

  8. Using gaming to develop student’s interest in history allows them to experience it instead of just memorizing facts. Mr. Harms, History Teacher and developer of History Simulations, Please consider adding my site to your page-Thanks, Dave

  9. I think in this day and age, it is important to integrate use of technology and video games in the classroom. Students are very fimilar with technology and video games so why not add something in the classroom that they already know. It brings an engaging aspect into their daily routine at school. I think its important to bring an aspect of learning that is exciting for them and that they look forward to using. When they are excited to learn that is when they will actually engage in the learning and they will retain the information that they have learned. I also think if resources that are out there will help the students learn, then why not just use them?

  10. I think that this is the way that teaching is headed with how fast technology keeps on changing. The more teachers can incorporate technology in engaging ways it will encourage students to make connections with the material being taught. A lot of students enjoy video games, regardless of gender or age. While I think that the can be a great tool to help teach about certain things, like using the game The Oregon Trail, teachers need to be wary of what games are being used. The ones that are geared towards teaching would be fine to use, but games like Assassins Creed, while it shows historical events, would not be appropriate due to the graphic violence and overall theme of the game. Overall, I think that video games could be a great and exciting tool of it is used in the correct and an appropriate way.

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