Understanding Gen Z

Gen Z on Skills Acquisition Through Entertaining Video Games, Not Edutainment

Today’s young people have spent $18 billion on video game-related expenses in the last year, according to Ypulse’s December 2020 “Behavioral Report: Gaming.” With this in mind, while many members of Gen Z leverage video games for entertainment and relaxation, we know that there are promising opportunities to harness the power of video games to better engage students in developing skills that will help prepare them for future career success.

“Skills Acquisition through Entertaining Video Games” was the topic of our recent virtual session at the ISTE 2021 Online Conference. Here are key takeaways, as well as implications.

#1: Video games are everywhere and for every purpose: Youth are playing video games constantly. According to Ypulse’s December 2020 “Behavioral Report: Gaming,” 94% of 13-39-year-olds report playing video games, and 97% of American children and adolescents report playing at least an hour a day, according to Granic, Isabela, Adam Lobel, and Rutger CME Engels’, “The benefits of playing video games,” which was published in the American Psychologist (69, no. 1 (2014): 66.

Young people view video games as a place for socialization. In fact, 60 % of young gamers say games help them be social, and two thirds would rather play with a friend than by themselves, according to Ypulse’s December 2020 “Behavioral Report: Gaming.”

#2: Students play video games for fun: To gain a deeper understanding of why young gamers – 13- and 14-year-olds – play games, ASA surveyed 500 of them. These young people primarily play games for fun or to relax or escape from daily life, with almost two-thirds saying they play games for these reasons. Nearly half say they play games to be creative, with a similar percentage saying they play games because they have an interesting story and to hang out with friends or meet people. So overall, students play games to have fun, but they like the creative, narrative, and social aspects of gaming.

#3: Positive impact of video games: While the media narrative to date has focused on negative impacts of gaming, there are a variety of positive impacts of games as well, and research has begun to move toward uncovering what these positive impacts are. For example, research increasingly shows that video games can help gamers develop a host of real-world skills. Video games designed for entertainment – commercial video games – and video games designed specifically to educate – edutainment or “serious” games – are able to help gamers develop skills like attention, spatial concentration, problem solving, decision-making, collaboration, creativity, and computer skills. Games accomplish this by using failure as a motivational tool while providing some chance for success or reward – gamers respond positively to failure, generally, and feel motivation to succeed. As a result, the reward system and accompanying motivated behavior helps gamers to learn and develop skills.

#4: Research shows that there are many skills gamers can develop when playing purely for entertainment. The games Minecraft, Borderlands 2, Rayman Raving Rabbids, Team Fortress 2, Portal 2, and Civilization are all games that researchers have connected to skill development. For example, Minecraft has been used in the classroom – even though it is a game built for entertainment – to build skills in science, math, social studies, language arts, and composition. Civilization has also been used in the education space. Meanwhile, these other games have led to increases in reading comprehension, problem solving skills, communication, resourcefulness, and adaptability.

  • Just as research demonstrates that games can indeed develop skills in gamers, young people feel that they have learned skills from video games. Over half of gamers that ASA has surveyed think games have taught them creativity and imagination in addition to physical skills, strategic planning, and critical thinking.

#5: Gamers are not interested in games designed primarily to educate. Many games that are designed primarily to educate suffer from poor production quality and lack of entertainment, so gamers know they are learning through a product that is only “masquerading” as fun (Barr 2018, 293). Games that prioritize entertainment over education can educate young gamers. Research backs this up, and the market is certainly moving toward developing games like Minecraft and Kerbal Space Program that have high production value, are designed for fun, and still  provide opportunities for learning. With young gamers playing everywhere, there are so many opportunities to educate digital natives and help them develop skills necessary for the jobs of tomorrow.


  • Video games are ubiquitous. They are the dominant form of culture for Gen Z, with over half playing mobile and computer games weekly or more.
  • There is substantial evidence (observational and self-reported) that entertaining games are fun and they teach real-world skills.
  • Young gamers would be interested in playing a fun game that will tell them about their skills.
    • 91% of the 500 young gamers ASA surveyed said they would be likely to play a game that is designed primarily for fun, but that would nonetheless tell them something about the real-world skills they have and are developing in the game.

We hope you found this useful. You can find the complete session recording here.

We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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