The benefits of using video games in education and training are no longer disputed by anyone today. Simulation, sports, role-playing or strategy games help improve eye-hand coordination, attention, and spatial orientation, exercise memory, develop perceptiveness, provoke logical thinking, teach to make decisions, make choices and anticipate the consequences of actions taken. Does this mean that teachers can use them in lessons without reluctance?
Games from specific fields of knowledge (mathematics, logic, nature, geography, ecology, foreign languages) help to gain knowledge and interest a child in a given topic, while also being a form of interesting fun. Serious Games have become an important didactic tool used in military training (e.g. learning how to maneuver a tank, simulating platoon battles, learning war tactics) and medical training (e.g. virtual operating rooms for future surgeons, games used in inpatient rehabilitation or promoting healthy lifestyles and healthy eating).
In school education, too, games are gaining popularity, finding their way onto school reading lists and “entertaining, teaching.” The times of pandemics and remote learning have only confirmed that the education of the youngest generations, but also students, cannot do without digital learning aids. The market offers teachers a number of free applications like professional essay editor platforms that either allow them to design their own typically educational games or contain educational games ready to use (e.g. for learning to calculate percentages, learning languages, etc.). Developers of games or engines for such games grant free licenses, usually allowing almost unlimited free use. The choice of paid educational games is huge, allowing teachers to find a game for almost “any topic,” i.e. suitable for a given teaching content.
Does copyright law allow the use of video games in teaching?
However, the question arises about the possibility of using a video game that is not a typical educational game. So, can a commercial game, such as SimCity, be used to teach children the basics of management and economics? The possibility and manner of using a game in school or university teaching are subject to evaluation from the point of teachers’ and schools’ views.
Permitted use is, in general, the ability to use a work free of charge without having to seek permission for such use from the creator/copyright owner. The most common use is within the scope of one’s own personal use or within the framework of the right of quotation, but the Copyright Act also provides for other exceptions to the principle of obtaining permission to use someone else’s work. One such exception is used for educational purposes.
Who can benefit from permitted educational use?
The catalog of entities that can use a protected work – a computer game – during teaching includes the institutions and entities engaged in education and scientific research specified by the laws, mainly schools of various levels, kindergartens, institutions and counseling centers, educational centers, and universities.
The legislation does not require that the aforementioned entities carry out non-commercial activities in order to invoke permitted use6. Thus, it is assumed that it does not matter whether a fee is charged for teaching. The key is to establish that the main purpose of the entity’s activity is educational and not to generate profit. Permitted use can therefore be used by both private and public kindergartens, schools, or universities.
The use of the game in traditional teaching
One can imagine many ways to use a game in teaching. One of them might be to play the game during a lesson to either discuss it or listen to the soundtrack. Such use of the game is unlikely to involve active play by the entire class. This is primarily prevented by technical obstacles imposed by the manufacturers, which will prevent active use by students. Only the actual owner of a legal copy of the game – either on disc or online via a user account – can actively use the game. In this situation, the active player can actually be only the teacher, who will either present the game or actively participate in it, using the students’ instructions (what answer to give, what to choose, what decision to make, etc.).
Permitted educational use includes the ability to use distributed works (original and translations) in any way. An exception applies to use in the form of reproduction – only disseminated minor works or fragments of larger works can be reproduced, without restriction as to the technology used, and therefore also digitally.
It must be remembered, however, that the use – and within it the reproduction of a work in the context of teaching – is limited by the purpose of undertaking such activities, i.e., the use of a work in teaching is done only to illustrate the content conveyed for teaching purposes. The purpose of illustrating is interpreted as supporting, enriching or supplementing teaching or learning7.
The playback by a teacher of even an entire game on a console or computer during a traditional lesson should, in principle, fall within the catalog of permissible forms of use of distributed works. In such a case, although there is a saving of the game on the console in the computer’s short-term RAM, i.e. its reproduction (only fragments or entire small works can be reproduced), this is a single reproduction of a temporary nature. Such is permitted by the producer of the game itself so that the game can be reproduced at all. Therefore, it should be assumed that such reproduction falls within the framework of another form of permitted use specified in Article 231 of the Copyright Law8. However, such an interpretation may be considered contrary to the purpose of the use of the work. Since protected works can only be used to illustrate didactic content, such a purpose should imply the use of only parts or fragments of works.
Permitted educational use, on the other hand, does not allow a teacher to reproduce the entire game by creating tangible or digital copies then given to students. This is because the provision only permits the reproduction of minor works (the game is certainly not one) or fragments of larger works. Thus, if such a technical possibility existed, the teacher could duplicate only fragments of the game and make them available to students for playback on computers or other equipment.
The regulations on permitted use impose an obligation to “mention the name of the creator and the source.” So a teacher using a game should at least indicate the manufacturer of the game, and if the game comes from the Internet, he or she should provide the website address.
Of course, one can also imagine other ways to use the game for teaching purposes. The game can be the basis for students to create, for example, a scenario, the plot of a new “quest”, a lesson in character drawing. Such use of the game is a separate topic, the essence of which will be to assess whether the creations created in this way are an elaboration of the elements of the game, or are only inspired by it.
In light of current legislation, the use of computer games in teaching should be considered permissible. However, it is necessary to keep in mind the requirements for legal operation within the framework of permitted use in education. It is ambiguous to determine in what part a teacher can show students the game and demonstrate its functions and capabilities. However, since the computer game is intended to be solely a teaching aid intended to illustrate the content being taught, under fair use it is safest to use only parts of the game, not the whole.