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The Disadvantages of Computer Games in Education

Updated July 20, 2017

Computers are ubiquitous in education. Most schools have some sort of computer program for students; it can include a laptop for every student in grade 4 and higher, sophisticated computer labs on school campuses, and computer networks. There are some disadvantages of using computer games in education, and the disadvantages can potentially be harmful to students.

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Distracted Students

Computer games can often distract students so that, instead of learning the concepts presented in the game, they are focusing attention on elements of the game that don't have to do with learning the concept. For example, an addition with manipulatives game at the ABCya website has loud music as an introduction. The music can distract students at the start of the game, causing them to not concentrate on the addition skills they are about to learn. The narrator of the game, a pirate, can cause students to focus too much attention on what the pirate does. Once students get to the math problem, they might be tempted to click on all the game elements, guessing the answer instead of figuring out the problem.

Nothing Learned

Often students playing computer games that focus on a drill such as addition and subtraction already know the skill, so that the students don't learn anything. In order for students to learn in a lesson, they need to add to what they already know. For example, a teacher might have the class playing the addition with manipulatives game to the whole class, when some in the class already know how to add two three digit numbers with regrouping.

Absence of Inclusive Language

Many games, such as the Oregon Trail, refer to Americans as "we" without considering who "we" is. Games like Oregon Trail, discussed in an interview with Bill Bigalow on the History Matters website, are not inclusive to all minority groups. Bigelow said: "There is a coercive element to the language that is used in a history class---and in the media more generally, for that matter---that demands that students identify with the policies of the U.S. government and of U.S. elites: 'We' went to war in Vietnam. 'We travelled west on the Oregon Trail." According to Bigelow, African Americans were excluded from many Oregon Trail wagon trains, so that when the narrator of the Oregon Trail game says that "we" travelled with the Oregon Trail wagon trains, the "we" doesn't include African Americans.

Social Skills

Computer use in the home and school can give students little time to interact with each other so that they learn few social skills. Heavy computer use can isolate students, keeping them from making friends. Students who are already isolated and lonely often choose playing computer games in lieu of using social skills to communicate with others.

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About the Author

Matthew Bamberg is the author of several photography books, as well as an adjunct instructor at the University of Phoenix, National University and UC Riverside. He teaches English composition, sociolinguistics and photography, previously serving as a public school teacher in California for 14 years.

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