Games and gameplay are becoming an ever more important part of our lives. Many of us have a game or two on our mobile phone which help us drown out the hustle and bustle of our daily commute; you may huddle round your tablet to play as a family, or perhaps you're still trying to perfect the Single Ladies routine with the help of one of the many dance games on the market. Games are all around us, and make up the largest entertainment medium in the world, with more than 1.2 bn gamers across the planet. Yet there is much more value to games than just entertainment. Games, and engaging with games design, can be exceptionally valuable teaching tools and, when harnessed properly, have the power to engage young people both in the classroom and outside it.
Given the opportunity, people will play games for hours; not because they are mindless zombies brainwashed into submission, but because they are stimulated into solving difficult problems, learning new skills, and experiencing the pleasure of success. A recent study used functional MRI to measure the effects of video games on people playing Super Mario 64 DS. After a period of two months, the study found that the diminutive Italian plumber had helped to supercharge three areas of the gamers' brains - all involved in navigation and fine motor control. Often when you watch someone playing a game, what looks like escapist fun is actually deep concentration. This stimulation can be harnessed for learning, particularly when it comes to the core STEAM subjects of science and technology, engineering, art and maths. Games, by their very nature, have a deep relationship to core STEAM skills, such as logic, reason, scientific method and creativity.
Teaching through games as a supplement to traditional methods, can help engage your less-engaged pupils. What shows Newton's First Law of Motion better than an angry bird in a sling shot?
Teaching STEAM through games isn't just about playing them, it's also about designing them. The benefits of game design go beyond soft skills such as problem-solving and leadership. For example, to make an explosion within a game, or make a character turn or bounce you need to understand physics; to create a narrative you need a creative grasp of English and logic; to design a world you need artistic skill, and to code you need an understanding of maths. In 2014, Britain became the first G7 country to introduce compulsory computer science on the school curriculum for all children aged five to 16. By the age of seven, students are now expected to be capable of writing and debugging a simple program and by 11, some will be exploring computing concepts once grappled with by undergraduates. Mastering code is fast becoming as essential - even in early years education - as numeracy or literacy.
When a child engages with game design, it gives them a whole brain workout, encouraging them to think quickly, gather information and use that information to solve problems and inspire creativity. Most children love creating things. As games design is inherently a creative process, it is essential to build this mental connection between games and creativity.
Game design, unlike some other methods of learning, allows students to explore, be curious and persist through negative outcomes. What's more, one of the best ways to learn new skills is by experiencing failure, reassessing, trying again and then succeeding in a safe environment. Teaching through play is an excellent way of creating a positive relationship with failure and showing that not succeeding the first time is no bad thing. As the late Steve Jobs famously said, "Everyone should learn how to programme a computer, because it teaches you how to think".
At BAFTA we are huge advocates for the games industry - one of the three pillars we support alongside film and television - and the diverse range of careers available within it. That's why we created the BAFTA Young Game Designers (YGD) competition for 10-18 year-olds, which gives them the opportunity to not only design their own game, but to see it developed further with professional game developers. The competition is currently open for entries and we're encouraging parents and teachers to support their children and students to get involved.
Using games provides opportunities for self-learning, but students also need guidance and mentorship, which is why we encourage parents and teachers to explore the benefits of games making and games design with their children or students through the competition.
The BAFTA Young Game Designers (YGD) competition, in association with Nominet Trust, aims to inspire the UK's game designers and game-makers of the future by giving young people the chance to design and make their own game. The winners will be named at a special awards ceremony in July attended by stars of the games industry. Entries are open until Friday 3 June. To find out more about the initiative, go to: at www.bafta.org/ygd