50 Of The Best Video Games For Learning

From Civ 5 and Portal 2 to Assassin’s Creed and Minecraft, here are 50 of the best video games for learning.


50 Of The Best Video Games For Learning

by TeachThought Staff

We’ve discussed the merits and utility of video games in the classroom before, so we won’t beleaguer the point. If you’re interested in the possibility of video games for learning–that is, teaching and learning with video games to master both academic and non-academic content–then the following collection may be of interest to you.

We’ve discussed before the logistics of how to teach with video games (especially for non-mobile games). What exactly this looks like on a daily basis in your classroom depends on the reality of your classroom: Available technology, WiFi access, and bandwidth, grade level, content area, your comfort level with games, and so on.

But if this an area you’re interested in learning more about, we thought a collection of the best video games for learning–that is, those we’d want our own children playing for their varied utility in teaching and/or learning–might be useful.


To select each of these games, we focused on 3 basic criteria:

1. Playability

This has to do with the quality of the game. There isn’t one, clear definition for what a ‘good’ video game should be. Pong is universally-accepted as ‘good,’ but is a simple game of digital ricochet. Other games are multi-million dollar projects with a myriad of brilliant ideas, but they come together all wrong.

The most basic test of playability is this: A well-designed game should not confuse or frustrate the player. It may challenge them, but it should promote a sense of agency andĀ I canĀ in the player to problem-solve, overcome obstacles, and implement strategy to accomplish either game-created or player-created goals.

2. Cognitive Load

To qualify for this list, each of these games must impose an appropriate-but-significant cognitive load on the student. That is, they must require sustained creative, strategic, or knowledge demands for the player to be successful (however that success is defined).

This cognitive load may also be a matter of creativity–open-world sandbox games, for example, reward the player that is able to create their own meaning, reasons for playing, and factors for quality and “end game” scenarios. That is, they decide when they’re ‘playing it right,’ a powerful variation on classic design.

3. Innovation

We’ve also tried to reward innovative games that push the boundaries of what a video game is as a narrative form and interactive medium. Innovation isn’t necessarily a sign of quality, but considering it helps see games not simple as toys, but a nuanced digital experience. They can be innovative in terms of their gameplay mechanics (i.e., Portal 2), topic (e.g., Type Rider), or scale (e.g., Civilization V).

Another factor of innovation is collaboration. Increasingly, video game designers are looking for ways to get players playing together meaningfully. In some games, certain levels can’t be completed without teamwork and strategy that depends on each player’s unique gifts independently. Pretty cool, huh?

With that in mind, 50 of the best video games for learning are listed below.

Some Prefaces

Note 1: Some of the links are to videos of the game, while others are to app download links. Videos are probably a more effective way to introduce you to a game than some kind of app overview page with nebulous, consumer-driven ratings.

Note 2: We haven’t linked to any ‘buy this here’ landing pages outside of Apple and Google Play app stores, but a quick Google search should yield what you’re looking for.

Note 3: Also, though we’ve tended towards mobile games because those are simply more accessible to most players, the collection below represents a wide variety of video games for learning.

Note 4: Some of the games have violence/language (though we’ve tried to shy away from these, for obvious reasons; that said, try to have a non-violent game about the Revolutionary War). We also have a post on non-violent video games that don’t suck as well.

Note 5: The list isn’t ranked in any particular order. 51 great video games for learning, unranked.

Update: We’ve added one we missed, so now we’re at 51.


Portal 2

Civilization 5

50 Of The Best Video Games For Learning