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How to choose and use appropriate computer games in the classroom

The following information relates to the practical issues of using computer and video games in the classroom and the potential value they can bring to teaching and learning.

It is not the intention here to suggest that all computer and video games have formal educational value or that use of games in an educational context is always appropriate. However, it should be noted that, as with many other types of software, there may be aspects of certain games that have educational value, regardless of their origin or primary purpose.

The guidance below is aimed at teachers considering the use of games software as a complement to established educational methods. The first section provides some basic information about games in general. The second section offers a checklist of issues which need to be co

Throughout, the term computer games refers to games software produced for use on computers, while the term video games refers to software produced for use on game consoles.

Age ratings

The games market caters for a wide range of ages and preferences, something reflected by the huge variety of their themes and content, with the 20- to 30-year-old age group generating the most revenue for the industry.

Games publishers are not normally legally obliged to provide guidance about the age suitability of their products, except where a game contains certain content. However, a voluntary age rating scheme, based on similar criteria to thatby which films and video titles are rated, is commonly used in Europe.

The PEGI scheme is administered in the UK by the Video Standards Council (VSC) with the support of the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA). The VSC can recommend that unsuitable content of games be amended or cut out completely, and may refuse to provide an age rating in extreme cases. The vast majority of games published for the UK market are age-rated according to this scheme, with most games being rated as suitable for players aged 16 and under.

Information about the age suitability of games can normally be found on the back of a game’s packaging. The PEGI age rating badge will indicate if the game is suitable for ages 3+, 7+, 12+, 16+ or 18+ and will also indicate the type of content in a game, for example, violence or bad language. Although not an indicator of the quality of a product, these badges can be a useful guide to the appropriateness of content and themes.

However, if a game contains certain content and themes it cannot be classified and supplied under the voluntary PEGI scheme alone. It must be referred to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) before being legally supplied in the UK. The BBFC may withhold classification until certain amendments have been made, or may refuse classification altogether.

Any game which is rated 18+ under the PEGI system must be referred to the BBFC before it can be legally supplied in the UK, although it may be sold in some other European Union countries with the PEGI rating only.

More information can be found on the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), the Video Standards Council(VSC) and the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) websites.


The term ‘games’ encompasses a wide range of styles, storylines, themes and subject matter. The table below offers a selection of different genres, examples of specific games within those genres and a brief description of typical game play and content:

Action adventureTomb Raider, Soul ReaverCombines elements of combat, platform games, problem solving and exploration.
Fighting games (beat-'em-ups)Tekken 3, WWFMost popular on consoles, game play is based on two or more opponents attempting to knock the other out.
First Person Shooter (FPS)Halo2, Time SplittersPredominantly focused on shooting as many opponents as possible, and may include some puzzle and exploration elements. Online FPS games may also enable players to work as teams. Content is often gory to some degree.
Management gamesChampionship Manager 2001-2002, City Trader, Zoo TycoonUsually based on economic management in a simulated environment. The player must raise funds to pay for maintenance, wages, research, a new striker, etc. They can be very complex and a single game (or 'career') can continue indefinitely.
Platform gamesRayman, Lego Alpha Team, Abe's OdysseyThe player must complete levels by avoiding various obstacles, jumping onto platforms or using objects with special properties (trampolines, ropes, etc).
Racing gamesGrand Turismo 3, Wip3out, Grand Prix 3The realism of racing games can vary from approximate simulations of rallies using real map data, to arcade-style races, where realism is sacrificed to provide a greater sense of speed and present feats of driving impossible in reality.
Real time strategy (RTS)Command and Conquer, Sudden Strike, StrongholdThe player normally commands groups of units and gather resources to fund further expansion. Units move in 'real time' synchronous with the opposition's units. Games are usually themed around warfare or empire building by conquest. The imagery and level of violence can vary greatly.
Role playing games (RPG)Fallout, Baldur's GateThe player controls a single character or group of characters. Game play is usually based on exploration and completion of quests. There may be elements of fighting, but there are often many ways around each situation.
Simulation gamesIL2 Sturmovik, Train Simulator, Flight UnlimitedSimulation games can provide accurate reconstructions of modern or historical vehicles. Such games are usually rated by their accuracy and complexity, although options are normally included to simplify the simulation.
World-building games / 'God' gamesSimCity3000, Civilisation 3, Black and White, The SimsThis category covers a wide range of game styles (some may also be called simulations). Essentially, the player must manipulate either a character or an environment to encourage development and progress. The game's objectives may be open-ended; the attraction is often in 'tinkering' with environments. Combat rarely features in games of this type.

Finding out about specific games

There are many sources of reviews and descriptions of specific games which provide information about the content, themes, style and quality of games. Numerous computer and video game magazines and websites offer reviews.

Often, games retailers will allow you to try games in the shop; alternatively, games may be hired from some video shops.

Technical requirements

As with all software, games require equipment of a certain standard on which to operate. Games for consoles only operate on the specified console. Computer games have various requirements, such as processor speed, operating system and RAM size. Information about the minimum system requirements for computer games can be found on the back of each game’s packaging.


A new game can cost between 25 to 50, depending on which games platform it uses (for example, a computer or a games console). Many older games, however, particularly those for use on computers, are available at lower prices.


Computer games are normally sold with a single user End User Licence Agreement (EULA). This means that, legally, the product can only be installed and used on one computer at any time. A single product should not be purchased with the intention of installing and using it on more than one computer without the publisher’s consent.

If you do wish to install and use a game on more than one computer, contact the publisher (this information is normally in the game’s manual) and explain the intended use, which the publisher may or may not agree to. The issue of multi-user licences for games has been raised with publishers by ELSPA, which may be able to provide advice regarding licence requests.

Issues for classroom use

When considering whether to use a game in the classroom, the following points should be addressed:

  • Technical requirements: does the computer equipment available in the classroom meet the minimum requirements for using the game?
  • Appropriate content: do the content, activities or skills needed in the game match the requirements of the curriculum subject or topic learning objectives? Will using the game provide benefits, such as engagement and subject exposition, which could not be more easily achieved in other ways? What is of interest? Is it the game itself, particular elements of the content and interaction, or other functions? How will it be used? In group work, whole class teaching, or individual work?
  • Length of time to learn how to use the controls: how complex are the controls, and are all of them required? Will the time taken for teachers and pupils to become familiar with basic controls of the game impact on time needed to address learning objectives? Could pupils already familiar with the game support other pupils in small groups? Could pupils access the game in break times or in after school clubs to develop familiarity?
  • Regular save features: can pupils and teachers save the game at appropriate points? Will the saved game file only be available on the computer the game was installed on? Could pupils be provided with a saved game file which starts at a particularly relevant point of the game?
  • Pre-defined scenarios: does the game provide access to different scenarios, levels, missions which could be relevant to the subject or topic being taught?
  • Other options: what other options does the game offer which may be useful? Can the sound be turned off? Can difficulty levels be changed? Some games may provide options which allow the user to explore freely the environment without engaging in the full game. Where possible, reduce the variables, options and choices to enable pupils to focus clearly on the learning objective related to the game’s use. Certain games (particularly RTS games) often provide ‘mission editors’ and ‘scenario builders’ which allow the user to create their own environments, levels and missions.

Useful links

Becta Computer Games in Education Project report
Becta Games and education community

Published: 03 January 2003
Last modified: 07 March 2008

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