I saw this interview with Malcolm Harris located HERE and I got to thinking about how games could be used as motivation or inspiration to enhance education.
Because a lot of us game designers like to use odd and archaic terms, partly to show how smart we are HAR HAR, there is the distinct possibility that during the reading of a game manual a dictionary or its online counterpart may be pulled out from time to time. A lot of these words are frustrating when reusing them in a document, invariably getting the red squiggle line that tells me whoever made WORD, didn't have a dictionary. And unfortunately not all of those fun words will be covered in the glossary. Asking questions dealing with the text during play will make young people learn to use the table of contents and the index to find things in the text faster, and use this in reading other books.
Using the 3 main reference points of a book is a skill that is taught in school, to some sense of success, but making use of it with an interest of the child or teen cements it in the mind. Psychologically concepts adhere to the mind better when using a point of interest rather than when just being instructed. The reason you know all the words to the song you love to sing on the way to work is the same principle, you are really into it and willing to repeat it over and over. Using the ToC, Glossary, and Index repeatedly in a fun game will take away the instructional feel of doing it with a droll school textbook.
Most games have a relatively simple character sheet with only the very basics of character descriptors available. As a parent or educator, this would be a good place to pull out writing material, or in the case of a lot of kids and teens, a laptop and have them write about their character. Throughout school there will be more than one major grade attached to a descriptive essay about a character or an image, practicing in a fun environment will potentially make it that much easier when those situations arise.
Another often assigned school writing is the persuasive argument. This could be a tool used to go along with role play to convince a npc that an action is good or bad to bring forth a wanted outcome. Creating a campaign of political intrigue and upheaval, these small assignments could be seen as the distance correspondences of nobles and officials before the advent of the telephone or even the telegraph.
There is also the good old How To essay, for gaming it could be as simple as "In your own words how does initiative work". If the book isn't handy and there is someone who wants to play, have them write out how the game is played. If it is a boss fight you can say that the combat can be avoided or cut short if a how to is written of a creative way to stop the threat. Sometimes neutralizing the threat without violence makes a creative writing assignment in itself of how to achieve the goal.
Other things that could be written for compositional assistance based on gaming.
This one is simple and straight forward. You have numbers, apply dice, add them up. You have health and get hit, subtract them down. Take a sword and cut the enemy in 2, division. Mage uses mirror image, multiply.
Now that the silly section of math is complete, how can gaming improve math skills in more serious ways? Addition skills can be improved by shortening the time to count the dice rolled and add the numbers to it. Using dice, like the ones sold at Roll2Play, with pips instead of carved numbers is great for this, and they will also learn to quickly recognize the patterns involved in pip placement. Finding dice outside of the six sided range without numbers is more difficult. Start out with a few egg timers, 1 minute timers and 30 second timers, SOLD HERE, may sound like plenty of time for someone, for a younger gamer they may be a struggle. With standardized testing running rampant in schools, some of them timed, learning to do even simple math quickly can help a school age player.
As mentioned in the How To section, gaming is a lot about problem solving. How do you stop the dragon from eating the sheep? How can you get across a pit without falling? Stuff like that. Have the players plan out how they will solve a problem and give them limitations to do it with. Remove combat as a resolution, give them a time frame, limit materials, and so on and so forth. Making them have to think to solve a problem that would just be compounded by using muscle.
By giving them interesting things to do outside of combat, it could make for a more interesting game. Games where the XP is not tied to combat are the best for this as there is no reward for one more dead orc on the field of battle. Rewarding the best ideas in the group with bonus XP will give the ones that did not get it that session a reason to think more creatively next time, also good to avoid giving it to the same player each week to not make the ones who are actually trying to come up with options disheartened with the hobby. You also do not want to avoid rewarding someone who came up with a brilliant solution just because they "won" last week.
Some people just don't know how to interact in a group setting, and gaming can help overcome this. By playing quick play games you can change who is the leader each session to give everyone a chance to give the narrative, and to follow it. Putting someone in the hot seat in a fun environment, makes it easier to do the same in a more serious or academic setting. From a personal standpoint I can see how well it has worked for me. Back when I was in school I would sit in the back and try not to get noticed, I hated talking in class and just wanted to draw and do my work in peace. Then I spent a few years gaming and am back in school, I find myself having to hold back to give other people the chance to speak during discussions in class, sure it is community college and most of the people there just want to go to class and go home, but I am having FUN in school.
OTHER USEFUL SKILLS
Drama: Taking on the roles of the characters can be great practice for a budding thespian.
Debate: I guess when it comes down to it games are just playing pretend with rules. The great debate is always going to be "I shot you" "Uh Uh" "Yes Huh" "Prove It". Much like the persuasive writing idea, gaming helps with debate because you have to convince other players and the game master that doing a certain action is the best course to follow.
When looked at closely, tabletop games are great tools to boost education, not supplant it, just enhance.