While playing a math video game collaboratively - as compared to playing alone - students adopted a mastery mindset that is highly conducive to learning, researchers said.
Moreover, students' interest and enjoyment in playing the math video game increased when they played with another student.
The findings point to new ways in which computer, console, or mobile educational games may yield learning benefits.
"We found support for claims that well-designed games can motivate students to learn less popular subjects, such as math, and that game-based learning can actually get students interested in the subject matter?and can broaden their focus beyond just collecting stars or points," said Jan Plass, a professor in New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and one of the study's lead authors.
"Educational games may be able to help circumvent major problems plaguing classrooms by placing students in a frame of mind that is conducive to learning rather than worrying about how smart they look," added co-lead author Paul O'Keefe, an NYU postdoctoral fellow at the time of the study.
The researchers focused on how students' motivation to learn, as well as their interest and performance in math, was affected by playing a math video game either individually, competitively, or collaboratively.
Researchers had middle-school students play the video game FactorReactor, which is designed to build math skills through problem solving and therefore serves as diagnostic for learning.
In order to test the impact of different settings on learning, students were randomly assigned to play the game alone, competitively against another student, or collaboratively with another student.
The findings revealed that students who played the math game either competitively or collaboratively reported the strongest mastery goal orientations, which indicates that students adopted an optimal mindset for learning while playing the video game with others.
The study appears in the Journal of Educational Psychology.