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Learn anatomy while playing games

“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” - Leo F. Buscaglia

This quote, written by an American author and motivational speaker, resonates throughout the world of today’s learning. From a very innocent and early age, your parents, family and teachers have drawn a very clear and distinct line between learning and playing. Commands like “It’s time to end your game and start doing your homework” or “Are you playing again? For heaven’s sake, you’ll get nowhere in life with your laziness!” were probably a daily occurrence in your childhood. You were surrounded by distinct and commanding signals telling you when the time for play ends and the time for expanding your knowledge begins. The school bell, your mother opening your bedroom door, or punishments for not doing your homework are just a few examples.

These attitudes have almost dug an impassable chasm between games and learning that follows you throughout your life. Adults believe there is a time for games and a time for learning, which cannot be mingled under absolutely any circumstances. They pass this mentality to their children and we end up in a world where you either play or learn. The middle is just a fantasy. What a boring world we live in…

Pros and cons of learning anatomy while playing games
Pros They have a quantifiable outcome, are methodical, adaptable, engaging, free, portable, supported by science
Cons Limited to the basics, danger of recognizing rather than learning, repetitive, and boring after a while
Types of games Matching term and image, crosswords, hangman, Scrabble, Anatomy Arcade

Luckily, not all hope is lost. Possibilities do exist to make your learning different, fun and enjoyable. This article will introduce you to a few educational games that can help your anatomy studies.

  1. Let the games begin
  2. Learn to play
  3. Play to learn
  4. It’s not all fun and games
  5. Highlights
  6. Sources
+ Show all

Let the games begin

You definitely had your fair share of playing cat and mouse and hide and seek when you were a child. Although fun, they don’t help you with learning anatomy. It is impossible to learn about the tibia while running after your friend (unless you accidently, even slightly, touch it against a hard surface - you’ll definitely feel the anatomy then!). What you need are educational games which provide you with some knowledge as well.

Before you nod your head in disbelief just listen to this. Anatomy is difficult. You might like it, you might even love it, but it is still challenging. No matter what you do, anatomy is like drinking from a firehose. If the only thing you do 24/7 is open your mouth and drink, you will choke. To survive you still need to keep going but using a variety of learning strategies to prevent boredom and burnout. Ideally, you should use a method mixing both fun and learning. Check out the suggested games below to get you started!

Crosswords for learning anatomy
  • Matching term and image - If you have ever learned a new language then you are familiar with this. You just need to match each image with its corresponding term. If you do it online it’s even better because the cards keep flipping and turning their backs to you, so you have to remember and mentally keep track of what each one shows.
  • Crosswords - You read an explanation and write a word in boxes. However, the difference between these crosswords and the ones in your morning newspaper is the theme of anatomy.
  • Hangman - Stop yourself from getting hanged by knowing the anatomy word. Excellent for revising terminology.
  • Scrabble - Master your anatomy vocabulary by chaining words together. Words are usually quite long in this subject so winning is not far fetched.
  • Anatomy Arcade - The paradise of anatomy games. It is an online collection offering you jigsaws, crosswords, word-search, matching and much more! You can even whack a bone or poke a muscle! Have a go and learn with a smile. It’s right here

Games are certainly a fun way to learn and practice anatomy, but having a clear structure to your studies is also very important. That's why we wrote the Human Anatomy Study Guide!

Learn to play

“Learn to play”. More than likely this applies to your mind and views about games rather than actually doing it. Getting started is easy. It is literally just plug and play. There are no complicated steps. You don’t need a degree in computer science to start implementing this learning strategy.

You just need to get your hands on some board games and some anatomy enthusiastic medical school friends. Alternatively, if your friends are fed up of anatomy, just perform a quick Google search or go to Anatomy Arcade from the comfort of your own chair. It’s that easy!

Play to learn

“Play to learn”. Perhaps not a very obvious view past the age of seven. However, one that you should start implementing in your learning. There are many reasons to learn anatomy by playing games. The advantages can be summed up in Salen’s and Zimmerman’s (2003) definition of a game:

“A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by the rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.”

Anatomy Arcade educational game
  • System - It has a purpose, goal and a method to achieve it. Despite being games, “there’s a method in the madness”. These games have been designed and/or can be used specifically to learn anatomy. They are adaptable, having several layers of difficulty. Do you want to be challenged according to YOUR level of knowledge? Put down the books for a while and go play a game!
  • Engage - It’s fun, different and lively. How many students do you think learn anatomy by playing games? Very few, if any. That’s because they automatically overlook it for being infantile rather than being useless. Be among those that spice up their learning every now and then!
  • Rules - It follows the anatomical rules. The images, terms and jigsaw pieces are anatomically correct. You’re not wasting your time by learning incorrectly.
  • Quantifiable outcome - You genuinely learn. Games are excellent at making you comfortable with the terminology, a fundamental aspect of anatomy. On top of that, they provide you with feedback. You can actually see, measure or quantify how much you learn and know. Just like quizzes, these games use scores to measure how right or wrong you are. You have gaps in your knowledge? You lose! You’re an expert at the subject? You win! You know exactly where you stand.
  • Free and portable - Most of the suggestions are found online and are completely free. Grab your phone, sit on the bench in a park and do a word-search. It’s a piece of cake! 

Don't want to go searching for trustworthy anatomy games online? For faster learning, check out our very own interactive online anatomy game-like quizzes on over 5,000 structures.

  • Studies also support the use of games in learning. They are even used at university level. For instance, instructors use games like BINGO, simulation games, web-based quizzing and crossword puzzles to review course material. Games are used as an alternative to rote practice, increasing students’ attention and retention. In addition, participation in games makes learning a matter of direct experience and students prefer hands-on learning such as this. If you are still doubtful, health science students stated that “puzzles enhanced their learning, oriented them to the important topics, and served as good reviews of the lecture material”. So yes, games will help even you, a medical student!
A word-search anatomy game for the respiratory system

It’s not all fun and games

Learning anatomy while playing games definitely has some advantages. However, it is not all fun and games. Just like Anki or an anatomy coloring book are just possible study methods, so are anatomy games. They won’t magically save you in an exam. Neither will they project you on the highest rug of your career ladder. They are just another tool in your learning toolbox. Why is this the case? Because they have some drawbacks, just like every single learning strategy.

  • Basic level of learning - Let’s be realistic, you don’t become a doctor by learning through playing games. Although they do teach anatomy, they usually teach the absolute basics. They mostly involve terminology without any details or explanations.
  • Learning or recognizing? - For online games, you should ask yourself, are you really learning the information or remembering the game itself? If you’re wrong, games usually tell you the correct answer. This is definitely learning from your mistakes but watch out! What if you get a synonym of a term, a different image or a similar but not identical explanation? Could you recall it in a context outside the game? Certainly not if you don’t use other learning methods.
  • Repetitive and boring - Completing the same game over and over can only be so interesting before it becomes stale. Anatomy can already be dry enough sometimes, so don’t suck the life out of it completely!

These disadvantages are related to the very nature of anatomy games. They don’t have millions of dollars invested in them to have multiple storylines, changing levels or adapting environment. Their purpose is simple - to help you learn anatomy.

Always bare in mind that there are many other tips and trics to learn anatomy (e.g. learning on the go, sculptor method). You should find one that suits you. 

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