Game-Based Learning (GBL): The Oldest Tool of Education

By Talking Town

Game-Based Learning (GBL): The Oldest Tool of Education

By Talking Town

Every new age brings with it new opportunities to innovate and capitalize on. Our age offers us the immense capacity to build upon ‘Game-based learning’ by incorporating existing gaming technologies. ‘Game-based learning’, is as old as human civilization. History shows that we have time and again made use of it to teach ourselves important lessons.

Game-based learning through the course of ancient history 

Even before the term ‘game-based learning’ was coined, the concept was in widespread use. In a study  conducted by Andreas Hellerstedt and Peter Mozelius, it was noted that GBL is older than the use of dice in games and has had a high status throughout history. Games based on this concept have been used to educate princes, military officers, and politicians. 

Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, proposed a constructive role for play in education and considered play to be a “first step on a ladder towards true knowledge”. Educators like Vittorino da Feltre followed this idea during the Renaissance, and in the 17th Century, John Comenius’ systematic theory of education viewed the game (Ludus) to be the ideal form of learning.Finally, in the 20th century, GBL was introduced as a pedagogical approach at the university level by Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky.  

Ancient Indian Games 

India has a rich history of board games which were used as teaching and recreational tools. Some of these ancient board games are:

The Lambs and Tigers Game: This game originated in South India and was useful as a perfect mind puzzle game for children. It is a two-player strategy game wherein one player controls three tigers and the other player controls up to 15 lambs or goats. While the tigers try to hunt the goats, the latter try to save themselves.

Ashtapada: This game was invented around 300 BC. in India. Ashtapada (meaning sixty-four squares), was played with dice on a mono-colored checkerboard. Though not much is known about how the game was played, it is speculated that the game was similar to Ludo, along with some elements of modern chess.

Pallankuzhi: Originated in Tamil Nadu and widely played in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka, and most of South India, Pallankuzhi was a common board game in Ancient India. Cowry shells, small pebbles, stones, or tamarind seeds were played by two people on a rectangular wooden board. It is based on mathematics and therefore useful for children to learn counting and reasoning.

Modern learning games before computer & mobile phones 

While many of the ancient games went extinct when people stopped playing them, some underwent changes and became popular worldwide. One of these games is chess

Chess: The history of chess can be traced back to nearly 1500 years. The game is said to have originated in India, then spread to Persia and subsequently to Europe. The current form of chess evolved roughly in 15th century Europe. Now, chess is one of the most well-known board games of all time. It is known to boost creativity, improve memory and problem-solving skills (all of which are scientifically documented). Chess is played competitively in tournaments, and casually amongst friends and acquaintances. 

Scrabble: Another pre-computer board game, (though not as old as chess) is Scrabble. Its evolution can be traced back to the Great Depression of 1929 in the US. Alfred Mosher Butts, an unemployed New York architect, came up with the game by amalgamating number games, board games, and letter games into one. Like chess, Scrabble also has official tournaments (mainly in the US and Canada).

Ludo: Ludo is another ancient board game that has remained relevant throughout the ages. It is another Indian-origin game, whose evidence can be found in wall-illustrations in the Ellora Caves of Maharashtra. Ludo made an appearance even in the Mahabharata. In 1891, Alfred Collier modified the game by adding a dice cup to it and registered the game for a patent in the UK, naming it The Royal Ludo. Since then, the game has become popular worldwide. It is an excellent way to enjoy time with family and friends, and take a time-out. This makes Ludo helpful in decreasing blood pressure and the risk of mental illnesses.

Growth of computer-based learning games 

The educational gaming industry emerged in the 1970s and has grown from its nascent stage to advanced gaming platforms. Some of these programs/ games are mentioned below:

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Oregon Trail (1971): Developed by American history teachers in 1971, and released by MECC (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium) in 1974, Oregon Trail became one of the most popular early educational games of the 1970s and ‘80s. The task of the game was to lead an oxen-pulled wagon from Missouri to Oregon in the pioneer days of the 1800s. It integrated American history lessons into an interactive gaming experience. 

Math Blaster (1987): The original game had students zap numbers as the “Blastronaut” with the help of his robot dog and his superior officer. The game was a huge success and paved the way for the “Blaster” series which included math, phonics, and science adaptations.

Civilization (1991): An iconic game developed by Sid Meier, “Civilization” is loosely based on a board game of the same name. It is a strategic game in which the player builds an empire and experiences the different ages of human civilizations. It presented history in a fun and interactive way. Civilization 6, the latest iteration of the game, is a very popular turn-based strategy game. 

Minecraft (2011): A game that united players of all ages and preferences, Minecraft is a world-building game created by Sandbox Studios. It allows players to build in its 3D world by using textured cubes. Though not explicitly an “educational” game, Minecraft is lauded by educators for its creative construction element capacity for stimulating creative and logical thinking. MinecraftEdu movement seeks to integrate “Minecraft” into the school curriculum for purposeful and creative learning.

Click to see the full timeline of the “The History of the Educational Gaming Industry”, right from its nascent stages to its current, advanced iterations. This creative and easy-to-follow timeline created by b_phats has made the crucial history of educational gaming comprehensive and accessible for the rest of us. 

GBL games you may want to try out

Where’s my water: It is a water-based puzzle game where you help Swampy ‘the hygiene-obsessed alligator’ to take a bath by digging a path for water to run down to Swampy’s showerhead. It has been praised for its gameplay and its graphical style, with special recognition for Swampy, the lead character, who is voiced by Justin T. Bowler. It is available for desktop web browsers, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry 10 operating systems.

Universe Sandbox: It is a physics-based space simulator that merges gravity, climate, collision, and material interactions to reveal the beauty of the universe. You can destroy, create and interact on a scale you have never before done. It has received encouraging critic reviews and positive responses on Steam and other platforms. Universe Sandbox is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Dragon Box Elements: It is a game that incorporates concepts from geometry and compels players to utilize the said concepts in their gameplay. Made for kids who are nine years and older, the gameplay encompasses an adventure to defeat the evil dragon Osgard. Dragon Box Elements is available on iOS and Android. 


Game-based learning, as you may now be aware, is a very old concept. It has proved useful in educating humanity since the beginning of human civilization. With the advancement in computer technologies, GBL has undergone a re-conceptualization which gives it the possibility to be used for more sophisticated forms of learning. 

The potential of GBL is immense. The widespread availability of smartphones means that GBL can be made accessible for anyone at any place at any time. It may even prove to be a better and nobler alternative to the ‘mobile-phone’ addiction plaguing the younger generation of learners. 

One of the limitations of school education is the requirement for an institution, curriculum, and an army of staff. That makes a traditional school education expensive, intensive, and highly regulated. While GBL does not (and should not) aim to replace scholastic education, it can be a highly useful supplement to school education. By incorporating essential skills and abilities in play and games, GBL may even be able to replace arduous ‘homework’ for a more practical oriented learning. Needless to say, it may even be able to bridge the gap caused by the disparate quality of education across social classes. As of now, GBL remains a fertile field for educators to test their harvest on, provided it gains enough traction to be made viable and effective.

Talking Town

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