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Video Games as Historical Content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. The use of video games in the classroom is not a new concept for me. Growing up, teachers were always experimenting trying to find the greatest way to incorporate technology in the classroom. By middle school, typing classes were mandatory and sites like cool math games and Hooda math became very popular with teachers as they allowed students to learn through playing games. Now, students have constant access to technology so why not try to get them interested in games that are educational as well? I say if you can find a safe and reliable game that teaches students about social studies, then you should utilize it!

    • Thank you for your insight Jessica Whiteford. I am glad you had the opportunity growing up to use technology, video games and other learning tools.

  2. In my opinion, video games are a great way to educate children nowadays. Some kids are brilliant with their remote controls and video game skills. They could use those skills from home that they are good at and incorporate learning with them as well. Since the students would be “playing” and doing something that they enjoy, they may be able to retain the information they learn in a better way that they are familiar with. There are hundreds of different websites that I know and/or have used with science. math, and reading from online. Creating a video game for social studies would be so neat and because of it being a video game the picture can be so realistic. It would be neat to play a video game where you are a farmer in the south and you have to take care of crops, your family, etc. and students could learn about a time era from that persons (video game character) perspective. 

  3. I think that using video games a means to educate children is a great idea. We have come a long way with technology so we might as well use it to our advantage. Children are engrossed in video games already and what better way to help them learn than to use something that they enjoy. In my later years of high school, teachers found online games to help teach us our subject and it was quite fun. I remember specifically using one for science in sophomore year to learn about molecules and it was great.

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