Alexander to explain impactful synergy, power of learning in games


Sarah Russo
Staff Writer

From Super Mario 64 and Minecraft to Space Invaders and Tetris, there is a video game of just about everything designed for everyone. 

Kris Alexander, also known as the “professor of video games,” has spent his professional life researching, developing and playing video games. 

An assistant professor of media production in the RTA School of Media at Toronto Metropolitan University and director of the Red Bull Gaming Hub, a research lab based at the school, Alexander is a perfect match for this week’s lecture series theme of  “Games: A Celebration of Our Most Human Pastime.” Alexander will begin his presentation at 10:45 a.m. this morning in the Amphitheater. 

Alexander was a senior in college when he discovered the power of video games. He was in a typical, lecture-style class where the professor would read word-for-word from the slideshow for the three-hour lecture. 

After some experimenting, Alexander found his Gameboy was the winning tool in his education. 

Soon Alexander decided to become a professor himself – of video game design. He said the crossover between video games and everyday jobs was more wide-ranging than he expected. 

“Most people, they’re only thinking about this one here, gameplay,” Alexander said. “But if you look, there’s audio artists; there’s composers, quality assurance, community manager, (and) designers.” 

Now, Alexander said he is working to integrate video games into the classroom to “level up” education.

While Alexander learns the best through an auditory style, there are two other main learning styles: video or text. Some studies have shown that when two elements combine, learning gains are higher. When they fail to work together, though, they can cause cognitive overload. For Alexander, when the auditory elements of his professor’s speaking matched the excessive text on the slides, his brain was overloaded. 

“Teachers who use technology in the classroom need to ensure each channel is complementary,” Alexander said. “Otherwise, students are going to have difficulty transferring information from working memory to long-term memory.” 

Video games, however, have a complex blend of all three styles, including a fourth element: interactivity. 

Those same elements, Alexander said, should be used in traditional education to cater to different learning styles and engage students, no matter their location across the world, or whether they are learning in-person or online. 

“Video games actually cater to the way that we learn so we can take information” Alexander said. “Audio, text and video games mix these three, plus interactivity, in a way that enraptures people for hours. Why can’t we strive for classroom instruction to be like that?”

For many, video games are a source of fun and enjoyment, but they don’t recognize their educational elements. Alexander said educators should consider their implementation in the classroom.

“There is no video game that doesn’t teach you, not a single one. How do you move? How do you pick up, how do you grab, how long do you wait? And it never hits you over the head with, ‘I’m teaching you something,’ ” Alexander said. “These clear objectives … (are) sorely lacking in academia right now. Video games provide that. So it’s not the playing of video games, it’s everything that surrounds the playing of video games.”

Alexander said that doesn’t need to be complex as actually having teachers building and designing games. 

“The thing that (students) love to do in their game can translate to something that they do outside of playing,” he  said. “That’s what I say to teachers, ‘I’m not asking you all to learn (video-game creation software) Unreal Engine.’ I’m saying to recognize that it’s useful to learn game engines and processes and let me teach (students and teachers).” 

Since video games and those who play them are everywhere, Alexander says the benefit and educational gain from integrating video games into the classroom is obvious.  

“You have a statistical advantage to connect with the students because overwhelmingly, there are 3 billion video game players on this planet,” Alexander said. “You talk about the thing that somebody loves, it’s over. You talk about something that they’re good at plus something that they love, that’s it.” 

In his presentation this morning, Alexander will discuss impactful synergy along with video games in education — and explain why there is a connection between mayonnaise and Nintendo.

“This is the idea that games bring us together to provide unique, meaningful and — most importantly — community-focused experiences,” Alexander said. “The goal there is to sort of demystify some of these ideas of what’s happening with video games that people are unaware of.”

The idea of studying video games may seem useless or unimportant, but Alexander argues there isn’t a single discipline that doesn’t connect in some way with elements of video games. When he faces criticism, confusion or plain argument, he always resorts to what he talks about best. 

“I simply talk about games … and you’ll find people that are saying things like, ‘What about problems of women in games and women playing video games?’ ” Alexander said. “My answer always is education. Most times when people come in strong, I can tell immediately that they don’t research this medium in the way that I do.” 

About 50% of men and 50% of women play video games in Canada, Alexander said, but people fail to ask which games are women choosing to play. 

If the statistic shows a 50-50 split, but women aren’t playing in the top e-sport titles, then they must be playing other games. The top three genres of game chosen by women globally are “match three games” such as “Candy Crush” or “Family Farm;” simulation games such as “Animal Crossing”; and casual puzzle games like “Her Story,” according to a 2019 study by Quantic Foundry. 

“Most of the people that are saying there are problems with women in gaming fail to look at the bottom five genres chosen by women, which are sport games, tactical shooters, racing games, and first-person shooters,” Alexander said. “What they’re actually saying is they want to force women into genres that they generally choose. They’re not actually for women in video games, because if they were, they would be making spaces for the games that women actually choose to play.” 

Currently, Alexander is working on developing two video games, both with the purpose to educate while being enjoyable. 

“ ‘Bread Type’ is a typing game for my kids that teaches you how to type in a window of 60 seconds for you to perfectly toast bread,” he said. “And the second one is a game called ‘Bearable,’ which is a game about family, life and happiness — in that order.” 

After today’s lecture, Alexander is already scheduled for another in New York; there, he plans to discuss real-life work from his students. Each game tackles major issues like immigration, minority groups, indigenous communities, and even celiac disease.  

“These aren’t games that the news is talking about,” he said. “But it’s exactly my perspective on this industry, and that’s what I’m teaching these students who are coming up with these games, who have never built games like this before taking my classes.” 


The author Sarah Russo

Sarah Russo is a senior at Syracuse University studying broadcast and digital journalism. At Syracuse, she reports and hosts for CitrusTV and writes for The Daily Orange and Baked Magazine. Sarah also interned at the National Comedy Center last summer. When she’s not reporting, she enjoys being outside biking, swimming or reading. As a Chautauqua County native, Sarah is excited to work in a place close to home and her heart this summer. She will be covering the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and the Chautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist Series.