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The Benefits of Interactive Games in the Classroom

Hear from Dr. Michael Carter, cognitive development expert and gaming guru.

Brisa Ayub | April 16, 2015

Common Sense is excited to launch Digital Compass, a new choose-your-own adventure interactive for middle schoolers. Coming April 16, Digital Compass helps kids explore how the decisions they make in their digital lives can impact their relationships and futures. On the eve of launching Digital Compass, I spoke with Dr. Michael Carter, a cognitive development expert and gaming guru, on how an interactive like Digital Compass can be beneficial in the classroom.

What role can gaming play in a classroom or learning environment?
Scholars and practitioners have for decades studied the use of games in classrooms and found that good games that foster learning prove to engage students, particularly disaffected students, in such a way as to improve their grasp and retention across a wide spectrum of subject matter. Role-playing games and simulations particularly help learners develop skills and intuition because they invest in the decisions they make and persist to do. Learners in early adolescence are particularly sensitive to the presence of emotion in their activities, and active learning motivates them more than lectures or textbooks.

Digital Compass was created around the concept of Edward Packard's 1980s Choose Your Own Adventure book series, where the reader -- "you" -- determines the main character's actions. Can you speak to the impact that the second person, "you," versus the first person, "I," can have on users?
Games where players are addressed as "you" have been in digital games for decades. This increases their engagement since it is they who are making choices played out in the scenario. When they play through the person of an avatar, a representation of themselves, they usually behave in a fashion consistent with the character of their chosen surrogate. Games allow people to adopt virtual identities. The appeal of games is due in part to their ability to provide players with novel experiences that let them "try on" ideal aspects of their selves that might not find expression in everyday life.  

Digital Compass game page

How does playing through an avatar affect inquiry-based learning?
This carries over into real life: Kids who play the "good guy" in a game behave better when they're done. Playing a pro-social game increases interpersonal empathy and decreases the pleasure players take at others' misfortune. Players acting in a manner that allows them to understand and to feel the emotions one would in a real-life situation are more prone to understand others' thoughts and feelings in such situations.

How can kids build empathy through perspective taking?
Players who demonstrate empathy with their avatars' genders are able to form positive interpersonal relationships that allow them to accept others' expressed identities. So players making choices for an avatar of a different gender become more likely to understand challenges from the point of view of someone of that gender and to behave more empathetically to their dilemma. 

"Start story" page of Digital Compass game

How does repetitive, exploratory play affect real-world decision-making?
An inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning seeks to foster intellectual engagement and foster deep understanding. Playing games is a way of practicing real-world situations, a rehearsal for those very situations and the challenges they present.  

How is playing with positive, neutral, and negative outcomes effective?
Choice and the opportunity for self-direction appear to enhance intrinsic motivation, as they afford a greater sense of autonomy. Having players’ decisions lead to different outcomes engages players and encourages them to try different paths through difficult situations. 

With the guidance of experts like Michael Carter, we at Common Sense endeavored to hit these ideals in our design and development of Digital Compass. Play online for free at or through Edmodo (iOS and Andoid apps coming soon), and let us know what you think at [email protected].