Games Graphic

Have fun learning from computer games

by Matthew Leitch and Kool Kid916, 18 July 2007

This article is for young players of computer games and their parents. It was written jointly by Matthew Leitch, author of the Learning Ideas website, and a mysterious games master known only as Kool Kid916.

If you've never played modern computer games, especially if your knowledge of them comes entirely from scare stories about their adult content and addictive qualities, then you may be amazed at how brain building computer games can be, especially if you play them well.

Some games could even be a better preparation for adult life, for example in business, than spending the same time at a business school.

Tips to get started

Ideally, choose games that can be played by more than one player at a time, especially if a team can play against the computer. This minimizes friction between players, though competitive play can also be fun. Choose games with a mixture of fast action and career building. Prefer games that your friends are also playing. Obviously it's more fun to play things together but also some types of game are so baffling that the only way to get through is to ask someone who has already learned the secrets.

Choose games where progress can be saved at any time, such as Age of Mythology and Age of Empires, and avoid games with limited saving opportunities, like Lord of the Rings, the Third Age. Make sure your players know how to save their games and reload them later. Otherwise you can be locked into playing a game for 20 minutes or more without a chance to stop for dinner or homework.

Kool Kid916 says: The most frustrating things about computer games are these:

Learning games

Games tend to be similar to each other and with experience you get faster at learning new ones. For example, racing games tend to be very similar to each other so mastery of one quickly transfers to others. However, some games are better than others as your starting point.

Kool Kid916's top tips for learning driving games:

Some types of game tend to reward particular strategies. Kool Kid916 is very clear about the strategies that tend to work and is highly successful as a result.

Kool Kid916's top tips for learning martial arts games:

Parents will be happy to learn that many computer games have a career element to them. The player gains skills and possessions and uses them to progress to greater things later in the game. Even children as young as 4 years old can knowledgeably talk about gaining experience. A major part of having fun and succeeding at these games is learning how to build strength early in order to tackle greater challenges later on. A lesson for life!

Kool Kid916's top tips for learning Role Play Games (RPGs):

Did you notice that Runescape is really a business game? Kool Kid916 systematically exploits differences between markets to make money – what financiers call arbitrage. He, and his friends, constantly search for and discuss better, faster ways to make money and gain levels of skill.

Something else that is typical of Kool Kid916 is his massive knowledge of points and scores. Games show you lots of numbers about your strengths and your opponents' strengths, and about the effect of different actions you can take. Don't ignore them. Use mental maths to work out which moves are giving the best results and what you need to do to beat each enemy. Do experiments if necessary to find out what effect moves have. Don't use an expensive move if you don't need to.

Experiments? Yes, game playing is science too. In addition to experiments to find the effect of specific tactics, players sometimes try playing games in different ways to see what happens. They also read websites looking for more ideas for tactics and strategies – ‘searching the literature’ as a scientist would say.

Money is also a key theme in business simulations, often built on theme parks. Some of the game players' favourite strategies are too sharp for real life and would lead to major problems with consumer groups and even the police. However, most of it is sound commercial common sense and customer satisfaction is something players soon learn to monitor closely.

Kool Kid916's top tips for learning business simulations (e.g. Roller Coaster Tycoon):

The skill of developing/finding and refining tactics and strategies for success if a useful one for life as well as games.

Kool Kid916's top tips for learning strategy games:


Some psychologists say that genius requires talent and a ‘rage to mastery’. They point out that practising intensely for hours a day is something very few people are prepared to do and that is why there are so few child geniuses, even in mathematics, music, and languages.

But, hang on, millions of children in the developed world spend hours a day (or would if they were allowed to) playing computer games and their desire to win and improve is staggering. There's genius here, if only it could be put to better use.

Perhaps, in the near future, it will be. Instead of mighty businesses being run by overpaid middle-aged men the real strategy masters will be small teams of teenagers sitting at computer terminals typing commands that go, not to a computer game, but to oil tankers, market traders, research and development divisions, sales teams, and every other part of vast business empires.

If a restaurant tries to charge you $10,000 for a salad on a hot day you'll know it has already happened.

About the authors: Matthew Leitch has been studying the applied psychology of learning and memory since about 1979 and holds a BSc in psychology from University College London.

Kool Kid916 has been playing computer games for around four years and reached fairly advanced levels in the following games: