Hitendra Pillay’s Investigation of Cognitive Processes Engaged in by Recreational Computer Game Players: Implications for Skills of the Future

NOTE: This seemed like it would be a very exciting article for me to read and post on… but it turned out come with some significant qualifications… and it turned out to be a bit boring to read. Still, it is very relevant to my research and I’m glad to have come across it. Given the studies cited in the review of literature, the reference list alone will be valuable. He does hint at twenty-first century skills, though he doesn’t address the issues of context, inquiry, or collaboration.

Pillay (2005) was clearly working from a constructivist perspective; his introduction discussed “constructing information from computer game information” (p. 337), the “construction and deployment of knoiwledge” (p. 337), and the use of “qualitatively different schema” (p. 337) by computer game players.

From this perspective he explored “the value of computer games as a means for enhancing educational instruction” (p. 338); his review of literature covered “game attributes, such as risk taking, constructing meaning, and actively engaging in goal-directed search” (p. 337). He also provided evidence that “playing computer games facilitates flexibility in dealing with knowledge structures to overcome functional fixedness” (p. 339) and for “transfer of learning processes from computer games to… learning environments” (p. 339). He also included some evidence that “also suggests that computer and video games enhance inductive reasoning” (p. 339).

Pillay’s study then aimed to “analyze the cognitive processes engaged in while playing recreational computer games to help us understand how they might affect students’ performance in subsequent tasks within a computer-based learning environment” (p. 340, emphasis added). The study is stictly limited from the outset to exploring the transfer of learning from computer games to computer-based tasks, and does not consider the transfer of learning to other classroom or real-world tasks.

Still, through a mixed method study involving 14 to 16 year old students, Pillay was able to suggest that “playing recreational computer games may increase the time efficiency in accomplishing set educational tasks and obtaining correct solutions” (p. 345). He cautioned, though, that “it appears that the extent of such influence may depend on the type of game played” (p. 345). He also postulated that the improvements may have been due to a structural similarity between the games and the tasks used in the test (p. 347). It is particularly important to note that students who played a more open-neded game performed better on the educational tasks in the test (p. 347).

In his conclusion, Pillay naturally called for more research, saying that it “is important for us to understand the sorts of benefits possible from playing different types of games” (p. 348).


Pillay, H. (2005). An investigation of cognitive processes engaged by recreational computer game players: implications for skills of the future. Journal of research on technology in education. 34 (3) 336-450.