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Education Entertainment Games

What's In an Educational Game? 160

Posted by Soulskill
from the zombies-and-zombie-removal-tools dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I work at a non-profit whose mandate is to increase science literacy and awareness. One of the methods that we've started exploring is in making free, online educational games. Our target demographic for the games is kids aged 8-12, but there is no reason the games could not also appeal to a broader age range. What would you look for in an educational game? Does length and depth of gameplay matter to you, or would you rather play a trivial game with subconscious educational value?"
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What's In an Educational Game?

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  • I'm looking to have fun in a way that is utterly disconnected from the real world. Civ4 is about as "educational" as I'd be willing to mess with. It gives you the history behind the units and buildings in the civilopedia, but that history is 100% optional to look at. If the game stopped me with a message like "Did you know that ancient bronze-age spears can take down a B-17 bomber if they're thrown real hard?" it would come across as obtrusive and/or preachy.

    • by FinchWorld (845331) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:02PM (#28959741) Homepage
      Its possible to have fun, and be educational whilst disconnected from the real world. I give you Droid Works http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars:_Droid_Works [wikipedia.org]. I bought this game years ago, didn't even know it was educational, I just saw making your own droids and decided I must have it. I enjoyed the game too, its only recently when I found the box buried away somewhere did I see on the box that was an educational game. Teaches you about pulleys, weights, gears and thinking ahead. Im tempted to re-install it now...
      • I remember that game! I didn't know it was educational either, though I'm tempted to go dig out my old copy now since I do remember it being incredibly fun for the time.

        As for me, the educational games that I still remember from school were the ones that let me do stupid things. For instance, we were studying forests and the effects of underbrush density on forest fires in one class, so they had a video game where you could tweak the variables in an attempt to create a controlled burn to prevent a major
        • by rtb61 (674572)

          The best teaching games is all about getting input from multiple sources. So fro any non-profit whose goal specially is to create a range of educational games, it is really all about infrastructure, not creating the games directly, but creating the management infrastructure to combine expertise from wide ranging sources, educational, child psychology and computer engineering.

          Step one contact all universities around the world with the aforementioned goal and see which ones wont to participate in a shared

      • by SoupGuru (723634)

        You don't know how much history I learned trying to pass the age check quiz on Leisure Suit Larry.

      • by zobier (585066)

        The OP may want to take a look at Mathletics [wikipedia.org], a popular subscription based Maths e-learning website with a game component.

        Disclaimer: I work for the publisher.

        Also, sorry for threadjacking.

    • by Brian Gordon (987471) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:12PM (#28959871)
      Age of Empires 2 was great for history. I didn't even hear the words "Holy Roman Empire" in class until World History at the end of high school, but I was already familiar with it from the missions and the history background info provided on the History tab. When you're 12 years old you have a lot of time and patience to play your favorite games over and over.

      Even if you don't know the names and dates, it's still immensely useful to have a general idea of what happened. At Agincourt a few English archers were able to shoot down from a hilltop and defeated the French army who got stuck in mud in their heavy armor. I don't know anything else about it but it's more than most people know.

      You can't help but learn from those kind of games. I haven't played Rise of Nations in 5 years but I still remember that the Terracotta Army was Chinese. I know what Angkor Wat and Versailles look like. These are all things that I first learned from that game.
      • by Moraelin (679338) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:58PM (#28960547) Journal

        It kinda makes me wonder though if at that point it's really an educational game, or just a fun RTS that's just vaguely historically themed.

        E.g., at Agincourt,

        - it wasn't on a hill, it was on flat ground. The hill was at Crecy.

        - it wasn't just archers. About 1/5 of the English army were dismounted knights functioning as a heavy pikemen in front of the archers. The hail of arrows and the mud were one factor, but without that wall of pikes the French heavy cavalry would have reached the archers and cut them down. With heavy losses, but they would have.

        In effect, what really happened was more of a "the knights lost to combined arms" case than "the knights lost to archers."

        - the terrain played a more massive part than just the mud. There also was the fact that it was flanked on both sides by heavy woods, which was as good as impenetrable during a battle. (Anyone trying to make their way through it, would have arrived the next day at best.) Which allowed the relatively small number of pikemen to form a phalanx 4 rows deep and still completely prevent access to the archers, as well as be immune to flanking. (When facing lots of cavalry, flanking is your #1 worry. That's what the cavalry is there for.)

        Plus, it severely limited how many french could actually get into melee with the English. Even on foot and packed shoulder to shoulder, there seems to have been room for a little over 200 in a line. Which severely blunted the whole numbers advantage of the French. By contemporary French accounts, those in the third row of the attack wave already couldn't use their swords against the English.

        Worse yet, the French ended up packed in a tight formation, which is the worst possible kind against missile fire.

        On an open hilltop, the story would have been very different.

        - the french heavy armour played a much lesser role in their delay. The heaviest armour (chain or plate alike) at the time was about 40 pounds, and it would be almost another 200 years before plate got to be 60 pounds. Compared to the weight of the human and the horse, that was peanuts.

        The terrain there was freshly ploughed earth and literally soaked in water. Some people have actually drowned in that mud, which gives an idea of how liquid it was. Even without armour, marching through it would have been a pain.

        On the whole, probably the armour still actually helped. Otherwise they'd be dead even sooner.

        - it wasn't really "a few" archers. It was 5000 archers, raining a total of 1000 arrows per second upon the enemy. To give you a comparison, it's the equivalent of over a hundred M-60 machineguns on full auto, non-stop. It wasn't just missile fire, it was concentrated missile fire, the kind that would not be seen again until WW1.

        Etc.

        So basically did that game really teach you much history, or was it just a game? I just have to wonder.

        • The Agincourt map wasn't "on a hill." He misremembered.

          • Yeah you're right. The Agincourt mission was on flat ground. I was remembering one of the user-created scenarios, not the official one.
        • by forkazoo (138186)

          It kinda makes me wonder though if at that point it's really an educational game, or just a fun RTS that's just vaguely historically themed.

          Oh, the point ws to make a fun RTS, and include soem history wherever it helped flesh out the fun. That said, for all your very accurate points about how the OP was wrong about Agincourt, he knows it exists, and knows that archers were very significant to the battle. That puts him ahead of most folks I know.

          To address one of your specific points:

          In effect, what really

          • by Moraelin (679338)

            Well, that's sorta what I was wondering about: how far can you go with making it educational, before it ceases to be fun to play at all.

            Since we're in a sub-thread about history, history isn't really just about when some fun (at least in the RTS implementation;) battle happened, but even more importantly the historical political and occasionally economic conditions that led to the conflict.

            Ok, Agincourt is easy, but let's take Manzikert. The battle itself would be trivial to implement, but the battle itself

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Brian Gordon (987471)

              But it didn't even scratch the surface of how the Western Roman Empire really imploded.

              Still, unless they're actually in school, how many people think about the fall of Rome? How many think about Rome at all in their lives, or even ancient history for that matter? Reminding people of history and getting people interested is enough to get some to curiously click a link on Wikipedia and get the real history behind the fall of Rome.

              Playing the game makes it real to people, and important.. it turns Rome fr

            • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli and The Art of War by Sun Tzu, ought to cover some objective scenarios.

      • Age of Empires 2 was great for history.

        I remember how it taught me all about how the Scots won the Battle of Falkirk! [wikipedia.org]

    • Exactly. It sounds like he's looking for things that can be played in someones spare time, which means that above all the games have to be fun. A lot of educational games aren't games at all, just interactive teaching which isn't necessarily bad, just not a game.
      • by Romancer (19668)

        I think that all of those flash physics games are about as popular as educational games get before they require a long lead in. You can do the first few levels of fantastic contraption and get the basics, then have fun and compare solutions. The replayability is good too. Since you can set up your own rules for beating levels again. All water, no power, etc. There are a couple good ones out there that have a real following.

        The next step is those that require an investment to get to know the environment. The

      • by rtb61 (674572)

        In this case, they can go nuts here http://os.cqu.edu.au/oswinsdvd/ [cqu.edu.au], someone seems to have rummaged all over the web, looking for answers to that exact same question and even created a downloadable disc image, good work by Neville Richter.

    • But if there were upgrades that increased the strength of the bronze, decreased the weight of the wooden pole and made your troops do lots more arm-strength training then that info would suggest you invest in those upgrades instead of just coming straight out an telling you what to do. Then maybe after defeating your first opponent who'd advanced to big metal shields you unlock an achievement and a "300" styled 2 minute video about bronze forging, spear tactics and training methods.
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      I played many educational games in my own time. The Carmen Sandiego series immediately comes to mind. Also a lot of wheel of fortune and jeopardy. Games like this are somewhat educational while still being a lot of fun. Even when I was in school, we played games like Math Maze, and Math Ville, which were blatantly educational games but I still found them a lot of fun. At least more fun than actually doing standard math problem, while probably having about the same teaching ability.
  • Without the sound they are going to have to read alot of text.
    Also will help with memorization since they will have to remember things like favorite colors, birthdates, likes, dislikes, etc.
    (/Sarcasm) Really, Educational and Games seems to always fail.
    • by admorgan (168061)

      Really, Educational and Games seems to always fail.

      One of my all time favorite games was Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? To this day I still have the theme song stuck in my head as well as more world trivia than I really need.

    • I disagree. Without chrono-trigger, breath of fire, and dungeon siege my brother might have been illiterate. And around here they let illiterate people "graduate" from high-school all the time.
  • Does length and depth of gameplay matter to you, or would you rather play a trivial game with subconscious educational value?

    In a paper we recently discussed [slashdot.org], researchers noted that

    Ironically, they may even be less likely to become game makers themselves, helping to perpetuate the cycle. Many have suggested that games function as crucial gatekeepers for interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

    By that logic, almost all games offer children an actively engaged exercise in problem solving. Edutainment games seem to be dry and boring with the ulterior motive easily spoon fed to the player.

    I would stress games that have various degrees of puzzle solving but little obvious educational value. Look up the Castle of Dr. Brain [wikipedia.org]. I played the hell out of that and would welcome a web based clone with higher level difficulty! I also feel it gave

    • Well designed hero (Score:5, Informative)

      by DrWho520 (655973) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:10PM (#28959835) Journal
      Just to tack onto the above point, I agree overtly educational games are a waste of energy. Puzzles and resource management games, like Oregon Trail, have a much better chance at successfully completing your requirements.

      I think an intellectual hero as the players avatar would be a nice touch. A Susan Calvin or Hari Seldon character that uses knowledge and wisdom (a Tom Swift without the natural genius) to solve problems. Instead of the absent minded professor and his beautiful-yet-intelligent-and-spunky daughter needing rescuing, have the scientist do the rescuing. Or better yet, have the absent minded professor's hard working apprentice do the rescuing. You know, a young man or woman that your target demographic can relate to.
      • by Khashishi (775369)

        I dunno, Where in the Foo is Carmen Sandiego is pretty overtly educational, but it was still fun and successful.

      • Back on my old 486 there was some math-based educational game that I recall loving. It was a side-scroller with decent graphics. I think I even played it a few times a few years later when the math it was teaching was already below me just because it was a decent 2d game.

        I'll be darned if I can remember what the name of that game was.

        I also enjoyed "Where in the X is Carmen Sandiego"

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        Instead of the absent minded professor and his beautiful-yet-intelligent-and-spunky daughter needing rescuing, have the scientist do the rescuing. Or better yet, have the absent minded professor's hard working apprentice do the rescuing. You know, a young man or woman that your target demographic can relate to.

        I'm thinking of Penny, Inspector Gadget's daughter(niece? Niece sounds right). She was always saving his moron ass with her computer book (zomg a portable computer the size of an unabridged dictiona

      • Other characters. Abraham Van Helsing, Robert Neville (I am Legend) - might be cool setting up traps and learning anatomy. Abraham Van Helsing was based on a character archetype known as the Byronic Hero http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byronic_hero [wikipedia.org]. By definition, Robert Neville might qualify as well http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/byronic+hero?qsrc=2446 [reference.com].

        I'm also quite convinced that Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of The Caribbean, must have an IQ around 140, or at the very least a remarkably high spat

    • by Aphoxema (1088507) *

      You impress me with your pretty words and brainy thinking, eldavojohn.

    • Also, I'd like to caution you that we are a extreme set of the population. Opinions here may not be valuable to someone trying to reach the rest of the population.

      Which is a way of saying that you don't have a clue how to leverage gaming to edification in science.

      Science isn't problem solving, it's problem identification.

      An attempt at game-play within the goal of "increasing science literacy and awareness" should constantly present new technical facts and procedural scenarios. That's not game play.

      And i

    • by Khashishi (775369)

      Has it ever been shown that working out puzzles improves intelligence?

      • From what I understand that's debatable. On one hand you can practice the same sort of puzzles that are on the tests and get better at the tests, but how would one do on equivelant puzzles they haven't memorized? There's supposed to be a strong correlation between IQ and vocabulary, seems best to me. Puzzles by themselves don't seem to cover the breadth and depth that is intelligence. A *functional* vocabulary, that's different.

  • Seriously, there was this one game I used to play years back where two numbers would pop up, if you added them correctly your little gun would blast some aliens that were running down a hall towards you. These weren't nice looking aliens either, it really made you want to add!
  • I think for the age range you are targeting, the style of game that would have the most educational value (as in that something is actually learned and reinforced) works around putting understanding of concepts to use to solve problems within the game. The biggest problem for many students is being taught concepts but not how to apply them or use them to critically think through a challenge. If the game centered around having to discover and then apply scientific ideas/concepts to navigate through the gam

  • I like *fun* games. If it's fun, then you can make me learn all you want.

    The problem is that most educational games start with the lesson and then try to build the game around it. Start with a good game and then make it educational.

  • Code. Some pictures. Maybe a couple sounds.

    Next?

    Seriously though, there are a lot of people who are saying that educational games aren't fun, but I remember some from my childhood that I always enjoyed. Gizmos and Gadgets was one. I also enjoyed the Math Blaster ones. Maybe its because I was a nerd, maybe they just tried harder back then, but I think they made you think and you enjoyed the game at the same time.
  • The first thing you need to define is: what would be the goal of the game. It's probably not for time consuming leisure but to get the kids to learn something. But what do you want them to learn? Do you want them to learn math, then you'll need to integrate math somehow, for reading you should integrate words somehow, if you want to increase reaction time or cognition then you'll have to probably build a shooter. It also has to be fun and rewarding, if the kid doesn't like playing with it then they are goin

  • I like a game that is easy to get into but then can take up your whole life trying to master it. In my younger years for example I was a Dutch youthchampion in chess. That is what I look for in a game, not to many rules, relative easy to get you started but still providing you with a great challenge after you have learned the basics. I like stuf like sokoban, sudoku, atoms.
  • Something that allows kids to interact with the games through exploration and puzzle solving. Any of you remember those make your own adventure books, if someone can use that same basic concept I think would not be very boring to play.
  • MindRover (Score:5, Interesting)

    by khayman80 (824400) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:17PM (#28959921) Homepage Journal

    I highly recommend "Mindrover." In this game, you build and program a little robot that goes through obstacle courses, fights other robots, etc. It's got an intuitive graphical programming language (though you can edit the files directly for a more advanced, hands-on approach). You get to program the robot's default behavior, define how it responds to threats, program "hunting" strategies, etc.

    The main website appears to be down, but here's the community site [battlespot.com] with a demo for free download. If someone had given me this game when I was a kid, I'd definitely be a better programmer today.

    • by techess (1322623)

      I'm going to have to check that one out. Thanks for the link. I remember programming in turtle quite a bit from 2nd - 5th grade. When I got into "real" high school programming I was able to pick it up much quicker than most of the other kids because of all the time I wasted making programs with turtle.

      I also played Project LRNJ: Slime Forest quite a bit to help me learn the Japanese Alphabet. They did a pretty good job of making the game fun though it did get a bit repetitive.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by khayman80 (824400)

        Ah, turtle. I used to prank my classmates by surreptitiously typing commands into their keyboards that sent the turtle into an infinite loop. It would cover the screen with tracks until the confused teacher decided to reboot the machine. Good times...

  • Oregon Trail (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    One has only to look at Oregon Trail to get your answers.

    The thing that made Orgeon Trail a success IMO is that little information was forced upon the user. Anything information that was trying to be taught, was presented either in a place that the user had to go and ask for the information, or was a part of the actual game itself. Talking with townsfolk would reveal historic facts. The player did not have to talk with the townsfolk to play the game. However, the key was how much information was stuffed

  • whose mandate is

    I'd like to know from whence this alleged mandate comes.

    I think you mean you are another group with a common bond and you have a goal. "Non Profit"? I didn't see any mention of 501C.

    Increase science literacy and awareness - maybe you could explain just what metric you would use.

    "Science Alberta Foundation operates under the governance of a volunteer Board of Directors composed of accomplished individuals from across the province"

    did you get the PR you were looking for?

  • You have to start with Instructional Objectives if you're going to create an educational game.

    The trick is designing these in a way that translates into a teachable experience that's fun and sticks to what you're trying to teach.

    The hard part is doing this well. It's kind of like translating a book to a screenplay. Some things translate well (scenery, dialog), but other things have to be reworked into a different presentation (timelines, inner thoughts, points of view, backstory).

    If you're trying to teach b

  • Research (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Aphoxema (1088507) * on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:23PM (#28960031) Homepage Journal

    This brings to mind the discussions in the commentary mode in Half Life 2 and company. A big issue with testing was keeping the players focus on something without forcing them to look a certain way, usually by some obvious event in a direction not encumbered with dull scenery.

    Another focus, and I've seen this in a lot of games, is never to tell you what to do but make figuring out that the solution easy the first time in a simple form, then being given a much more complex form of it to work with sometime later. Throughout the game, you're given more 'tools' for solutions and they stack up into greater puzzles but never anything so incredibly complicated it'll piss the player off.

    Research is the most important part of these massive efforts and contenders like Valve put a Hell of a lot of money into it. In this case I would suggest some of your own research applied to the already improved methods.

  • Forgoing game play and resorting to strictly to trivia is an easy way to create a game fast and expand it easily but in my opinion it doesn't keep you coming back. When I was a kid I practically wore out the pocket atlas that came with Carmen Sandiego not only was I learning about geography I was playing a fun game. Even after I had seen all of the different questions I continued to play because it was fun and therefore continued to reinforce what I learned.

    The length of the game should be short but en
  • Better group to ask (Score:3, Informative)

    by Monkeyboy4 (789832) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:30PM (#28960143)
    Ask this question on twitter #gamedesign
    A group of people with deeper expereince than here will have some thoughts on it.
  • It all sort of depends on what gender you're targetting. If you want to target the girls, your software should include unlockable furniture, clothes, pets, ponies and a cute main character. If you want to target the boys, include enemies that challenge them "You can never defeat me!", levels, unlockable weapons, armor, and violent situations. Japanimation is huge with the kiddy crowd nowadays. Including such art would not lessen your audience or the games' appeal among minors. Your game is now horribly
  • Hi anonymous reader: I used to work in a very similar situation here in the states. I will tell you what I said at an exec meeting that carried a lot and still holds true with this genre: Make it fun; you only get to bore a kid once.

    Goodluck, contact me if you want to talk about any of this.

    kulakovich
  • by Anonymous Coward

    www.fantasticcontraption.com

  • Is this age range represented much on /.?

    I would think there are better places to ask this question, if you want a reply from the people the question is addressed at. If it does turn out that this is where 8 - 12's spend their time, then I'm in the wrong place - though it could explain some of the comments that appear.

    • by querist (97166)

      I doubt there are many 8-12 year olds on Slashdot, but many of us here have children in that age range and can comment on what held our children's interest.

      I believe Slashdot would be a good place to ask this. I suspect that I am not along among parents on Slashdot who, when considering a new game or toy for our children, consider how well it maintains their interest as well as replayability.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      There are many parents here.

  • by plasmidmap (1435389) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @12:45PM (#28960363)

    I've always thought that Darwin Pond [ventrella.com] was a cool piece of free (beer) software that could be used to teach evolution. It's a simulation game with swimming organisms that compete for food and mates. There's even assortative mating [wikipedia.org] built in.

    What's great about it is there's no fixed goal, it's completely up to the player--maybe you want to try to breed fast swimmers or cool moving swimmers. You can watch the abundance of types change through time, try out your own "designed" types or introduce random mutations into the population.

    I would recommend games like this.

  • Valve's Portal (Score:2, Interesting)

    If i just look at resent games I have played for entertainment, I would have to say I found Valve's Portal to be quite educational. It forces to you really think and problem solve. I feel problem solving is crucial to an educational game. Portal was entertaining enough to keep my attention and forced me to use problem solving skills. win/win
  • if i am at work or school, i want something short but sweet, ie tetris, planar, 3d puzzles, or games like the incredible machine.

    I do enjoy games with virtually no educational value too, but what it boils down to is score, time or however you can compare it to your friends or those around the world.

    Am i SMRT?

    I doubt i would want to play an education game that take a long time (not including playing the same thing over and over)
    But i wouldn't mind being proven wrong... is there a game that is considered long
  • by itsanx (1534709)
    A game with emphasis on beauty and immersion could teach me a lot of things. Like the Myst games; immersive enough to have me decipher an alien number system. Could as well have taught me hexadecimals or binary numbers.
    • by techess (1322623)

      That is exactly what Rama did for me. It was an old Sierra game based on the Arthur C. Clarke. You learn two alien number systems which just happen to be octal and hexadecimal. I didn't realize until later how much I actually learned and remembered. Plus the puzzles were a blast.

      • by itsanx (1534709)
        So by providing a convincing setting, these games made us curious to hear the rest of the story. Also, at some point learning occurred. That might be a good hint as to what edutainment software should be like.
    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      A game with emphasis on beauty and immersion could teach me a lot of things. Like the Myst games; immersive enough to have me decipher an alien number system. Could as well have taught me hexadecimals or binary numbers.

      Yeah, I recall a lengthy sequence in Stephenson's Diamond Age where the Primer taught Nell about binary numbers and encodings, boolean logic, transistor logic circuits, and even lisp programming by analogizing them into puzzles she had to solve to escape a mythical castle. One of the puzzles

    • by Krakhan (784021)
      Speaking of deciphering alien number systems, there was a very old computer game released in the 80s called Captain Blood [wikipedia.org], where progress in was achieved by communicating with other races of aliens using various symbols within the interface, where each symbol would mean different things to the aliens. You initially don't know anything about what they mean for each race, as a major part of the game is to figure that out so you can get critical information from them. By far the coolest concept in the game, on
  • That it runs in computers that meant to be educational (like the XO) is a plus.

    Also, educational in what topics? for what target age? You could count world of goo or civilization educational, but are totally different kind of education or required age.
  • If flash based games don't bother you, look at some of Wickedpissah's offerings. [wickedpissahgames.com] They certainly get me thinking about physics, though they're not intended to be instructional. I think that children, especially older ones, might really get a kick out of some of them, and get an intuitive feel for how objects interact at the same time.
  • The educational part need to be hidden as part of the game. SO they are learning witbhout realiing it.

    And the game need to be entertaining.

  • There are a number of things to consider when designing any game:
    • Define your target audience. Even kids ages 8-12 vary quite a bit. Are you targeting girls? boys? What do you percieve to be their interests? Get some kids in your target age range to tell you about games they like and see if you can borrow some concepts. Keep them involved in testing too. The reason shows like "Dora the explorer" are so popular is because the kid feels as though they are joining in the adventure.
    • Define your story. Every goo
  • I would suggest you take a working game and add background information. If you proceed a different way, for example designing the teaching goals first, you put your own creativity to a very hard test.

    For example I was recently asked what I would like to see in the "Modern Combat" Add-On to Battle for Wesnoth as unit descriptions. I answered: I want to see the history of these units. But providing history demands quite an effort in research.

  • A good emotional game should evoke the feelings. The protagonist should be a rotund, past-her-prime female who recounts her tales of being swept off her feet by two English gentlement, one of whom deserves her, and the other being the object of her affections. A side quest to collect the most flowers could only add to such a game.
  • by jbeaupre (752124) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @01:20PM (#28960875)

    My wife is a middle school science teacher. I suggested she should tell the kids that learning science is like learning the cheat codes to the universe.

    How about making that a bit more literal. Maybe concepts could be adapted to be "cheat codes" or "upgrades" in actual games. Think of how much time is spent in games trying to improve and optimize character, weapon, or vehicle abilities. What if you had a game that let you upgrade your weapons by applying new concepts. For example, complete a task and you are taught f=ma. You get to modify your weapon by choosing m. Next task and you are given more information, such as how a is a function of m. Start introducing more variables. Every variable and every interaction is a teachable concept.

    Heck, eventually you could have some kid working on differential equations for orbital mechanics so that he can kick his buddy's ass during 5th period math. The kid discovers Holman transfers so that he has maximum weapons payload to dump on his friend.

    • Someone please make this game, it sounds like so much fun.
    • by Whorhay (1319089)

      For boys at least you could make a FPS style game. Where in order to reload you must accomplish an arithmetic question. In order to obtain more ammo with which you may reload you have to do more problems, possibly of any sort (reading comprehension, spelling, math, math word problems, the list could go on). You could make almost all interactions with objects in the world involve solving a problem, anything that you'd want done without breaking the pace of gameplay would probably be best left as a simple ari

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Maria D (264552)

        It is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT for game mechanics to be intrinsically connected to the content. "Solve an exercise, reload a gun" demotivates the content of exercises, because they are seen as obstacles to some (other) prize. It takes a bit more thought to figure out how to make your content a necessary part of the game play, but it's worth it.

        For a good math example in particular, try Zoombinis.

  • I'm assuming here that education is your primary goal, and the game is simply the means to achieve that goal.

    Here's why you're asking the wrong people:

    Most educational software is lousy. This is because the people who write it tend to fall into one of two groups:

    • Software developers. These people produce software which is stable, easy to deploy across a network and doesn't make assumptions like "the end user can write to any location on the hard disk they choose". Which is great - except it doesn't genera
  • A game that allows you to send your opponent home crying for his/her mama simply by know more than he/she does would provide some serious learning incentive. "I'll show you! (sniff) I'm gonna memorize the periodic table, Maxwell's equations and the US Constitution, and then you'll be sorry!"
  • The major difference between "educational" games and so called "non-educational" games, is that the developer's goal in educational games is to use the game to teach some "thing" where in non-educational games the purpose is generally the game-itself. This is a completely artifical distinction based on if you're teaching pure "content" (such as learning the colors, or geopgraphy) versus as "skill" (such as memory, or problem solving). For example, if my game is about teaching world geography, I wouldn't wan
  • I suggest you ask some children in your target audience what games they like to play (not strictly video games, all games). You might also take a walk down to the toy store and see what's there. Here are a few timeless examples that translate well in the video game medium:

    • Dolls / House / Pretend / Stuffed Animals (The Sims, Webkinz, Nintendogs)
    • Tag, Cops and Robbers, kill-the-guy-with-the-ball (FPS & Action genres)
    • GI Joe, Transformers, Pokemon, Bakugan (WOW & fantasy)
    • Blocks / Trains / Legos / Sand
  • by Ironica (124657) <pixel.boondock@org> on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @02:01PM (#28961419) Journal

    My oldest is still younger than your target group, but I can tell you a bit about what he finds entertaining and educational.

    First of all, he's pre-literate. Computer games have been a real motivator for his literacy and numeracy, though. While our generation's first sight words were things like dog, cat, boy, girl... he recognizes start, next, exit, off, on, and his own name, as well as our names (he started picking those up when we were all playing Peggle a whole lot, and we didn't want him playing under our names!).

    So, games that don't require a ton of literacy to play, but where it's going to be easier to do things if you can read prompts or buttons, can encourage sight-reading in younger kids. I wouldn't be surprised if instructions or useful background information that scrolls by at a slow speed might improve reading speed and accuracy in older kids.

    Numeracy has been an even bigger thing for our son, though. One day he was watching me play Bubble Spinner. He read off my score: "You have 83 points!" then I shot a ball and got three more points. "86!" I made another shot and got six points. "89-- er... 92 points!" he had intuitively assumed that 89 was next in the series, without being aware he was identifying a pattern or doing math. He can also read off five digit numbers correctly, and thanks to various iterations of Desktop Tower Defense, is learning how "money" works.

    So, you can teach a lot about math and numbers just by having a semi-complicated scoring system, such as one where you earn points that you can then spend on upgrades, which cost different amounts of money, have different ammunition requirements, can kill different numbers of creatures (or pop different numbers of balloons, or stun different numbers of monkeys, or whatever) per shot, and so on.

    The hardest part is to balance the relatively low tolerance for frustration that most kids have, with the need to be persistently engaging and somewhat challenging so they don't get bored. Something that you can have fun with at first, but can do MORE with as you learn more about it, is ideal.

  • I think you have to be clear as to whether you're teaching facts or concepts.

    For example, the World Traveler IQ Challenge [travelpod.com]

    seems largely fact-based. Where is X -- click on it -- get feedback -- improve at an incredible rate. But you're actually learning "concepts", because you build up a map rather than just "X is the capital of Y" etc. The map gives you an implicit understanding of geography, so you don't have to memorise a list to know all the countries neighbouring Eritrea, for example.

    Then there's Slime

  • scorched earth (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Khashishi (775369) on Wednesday August 05, 2009 @02:34PM (#28961829) Journal

    learn about projectile motion, angles, and parabolas..

  • Instead of focusing on games, you could expand the card decks available for free/OSS non-linear learning tools and help promote those tools.

    http://www.mnemosyne-proj.org/ [mnemosyne-proj.org]

    and

    http://web.mac.com/jrc/Genius/ [mac.com]

    are ones I have used.

  • All games are educational. Why we find things 'fun' is fundamentaly linked to how the human mind learns and all the positive reinforcement it gives itself when it is accomplishing something and enhancing itself.
  • Play Rocky's Boots by Warren Robinett. The almost-perfect educational game. (I had it on Commodore 64, but I believe there's a Apple II image downloadable from this site: http://www.warrenrobinett.com/rockysboots/ [warrenrobinett.com] )

  • ... would be a great idea. I've often thought the problem isn't "educational games" it's TAKING AN EXISTING GAME adding educational elements and just let the kids play the f'n game and get out of their way.

    You can't have a game that isn't fun to play, if you make educational "game" that isn't fun or addictive to play it's pointless because the whole point of education is practice and re-enforcement of the things you want the students to learn.

    I think the whole culture of school has done a lot ot kill curio

  • ... Immune attack

    http://fas.org/immuneattack/download [fas.org]

    THIS game if it was made in higher definition would be fantastic, I remember being intrigued while playing this game and thinking what would happen if you got professional game developers making stuff like this.

    There's nothing quite like moving around your immune system and zapping bugs that really reenforced remembering stuff.

  • You want a shining example of a really good educational game? Try Quarky and Quaysoo's Turbo Science [wikipedia.org], a 1992 MS-DOS game published by Sierra designed to teach scientific concepts to children. Lots of sweet cartoon animation, and stealthfully educational.

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