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What's In an Educational Game?

Soulskill posted about 5 years ago | from the zombies-and-zombie-removal-tools dept.

Education 160

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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None of the above. (1)

snarfies (115214) | about 5 years ago | (#28959599)

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.

Re:None of the above. (4, Interesting)

FinchWorld (845331) | about 5 years ago | (#28959741)

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...

Re:None of the above. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28960787)

From Wikipedia

These missions are where the educational properties come into play, as the missions puzzle specifies, it will teach the player about Energy, Force and Motion, Simple Machines, Light, and Magnetism.

Well, it's a star wars game. Of course it will teach about the force

Re:None of the above. (1)

Njoyda Sauce (211180) | about 5 years ago | (#28961105)

A similar game that I enjoyed in my youth that was labeled as "educational" but played as a normal fun game was BannerCatch.
A simplistic description:

Bannercatch is a five-level partnership game of strategy and skill. You and your partner compete on a 64sector playing field against a character named Max. The object of the game is to capture Max's flag with your robots and carry it back to your part of the playing field. Your side has four joystick-controlled, "humanoid" robots. Max also has four robots.
      The game is quite involved and comes with a number of items including a detailed instruction manual, a reference card, a secret document marked "for robots only," a colorful bannercatch poster, bannercatch stickers, and playing field map.
      The playfield is huge. Only a portion of each of the 64-sectors of the playfield is visible on the screen at once. The screen is split so each partner can view a different part of the field. To keep track of your location, you have to note the sector number you're in and then refer to the playing field map.
      Defeating Max and his robots isn't easy. To do it you have to work with your partner and learn how to intercept and decode the secret messages he sends to his robots. That's where an added bonus comes in. Max and his robots communicate in binary code. By playing the game you learn to read binary numbers, an important skill to have if you're interested in computer programming.
      Besides defeating Max, another goal is revealing his mysterious face. Each time you win a game, a bit more of Max's face will appear. A special sheet is provided so you can gradually sketch in his face as you win more and more games.
      Interesting sound effects occur when you accidentally bump into something or when you cross the river dividing the playing field. Lively, well-written music helps announce the winner of each game. The action can be quite exciting as you try to elude Max's robots or chase them when they steal your flag. Careful though! I almost broke a joystick running from Tor, one of Max's robots.

Re:None of the above. (1)

Anubis IV (1279820) | about 5 years ago | (#28961403)

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 forest fire from breaking out. Of course, most of us liked to see how quickly we could wipe out the entire forest, but we did learn the principles in between the mass destruction.

Honestly, I know it's cliche, but teaching boys is easy: just make something blow up, get eaten, or otherwise cause destruction. Whether it's a robot with pulleys that crashes and burns, a "controlled" burn that goes out of control, or animals in the food chain eating each other, when things just break, boys take notice.

Re:None of the above. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28959743)

maybe your games can remedy the lack of critical thinking skills that's turning the average person into such a dumbass who's so easy to take advantage of by large businesses and governments

Re:None of the above. (4, Informative)

Brian Gordon (987471) | about 5 years ago | (#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.

Makes me wonder, though (3, Informative)

Moraelin (679338) | about 5 years ago | (#28960547)

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.

Re:Makes me wonder, though (1)

FishWithAHammer (957772) | about 5 years ago | (#28960935)

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

Re:Makes me wonder, though (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28960941)

Isn't that what the poster to which you just replied already said?

Re:Makes me wonder, though (1)

Arthur B. (806360) | about 5 years ago | (#28961027)

No, he said that the real Azincourt was on flat ground, gp said that the game Azincourt was also on flat ground so the OP's error was not induced by the game being inaccurate but because he misremembered it.

Re:Makes me wonder, though (1)

Brian Gordon (987471) | about 5 years ago | (#28961177)

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

Re:None of the above. (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about 5 years ago | (#28961033)

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]

Re:None of the above. (1)

Brian Gordon (987471) | about 5 years ago | (#28961123)

The game set up the battle and you get to be the general, win or lose. There's no historical statement there; it's just a matter of how well you play.

Re:None of the above. (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | about 5 years ago | (#28959889)

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.

Re:None of the above. (1)

Romancer (19668) | about 5 years ago | (#28960425)

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. These have a higher payoff as the storyline plays out but they require a lot more attention and time in the beginning and have to be engaging. That's the hard part. To get the person to stay long enough to become invested in the characters or cause while teaching them how to manuver and build up a playing stratagy to advance into the real meat of the game.

Re:None of the above. (1)

thinsoldier (937530) | about 5 years ago | (#28960039)

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.

Re:None of the above. (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 5 years ago | (#28960109)

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.

Doujin games, (1)

Icegryphon (715550) | about 5 years ago | (#28959613)

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.

Re:Doujin games, (1)

admorgan (168061) | about 5 years ago | (#28959893)

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.

Re:Doujin games, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28959955)

You scratched me in a bad place. Educational games can be quite successful. Math blaster was popular with my peers when I was young, for example. Zelda also involves problem solving skills and it was quite popular, apply some more scientific concepts and students will find more motivation to follow their teacher in class or even get ahead. Suddenly those dryly presented concepts with no relevance to the student become *usable* in something that they *enjoy*.

Also, terminology...
Doujin games include FreeCiv, by definition.
You are specifically thinking of Dating Sims/Visual Novels, the latter of which is getting voiced much more often, even when created by amateur artists, and is not limited to dating/romantic scenarios.

Re:Doujin games, (1)

thinsoldier (937530) | about 5 years ago | (#28960073)

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.

Re:Doujin games, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28960353)

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.

If that's the depth of his reading skills, then I'd argue that he is illiterate.

Sim games (0, Redundant)

webax (1034218) | about 5 years ago | (#28959615)

I certainly learned more about history from games like Colonization [wikipedia.org] than I did in school. It's too bad that most Sim games, like Spore, distort reality horribly when they could have been made into valuable learning experiences with little effort.

Obvious Edutainment is Doomed, Go With Puzzles (1, Flamebait)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 5 years ago | (#28959617)

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 me great puzzle solving skills.

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. Of course we are predisposed to enjoy depth and length over trivial pop cap games with flashing jewels.

Well designed hero (4, Informative)

DrWho520 (655973) | about 5 years ago | (#28959835)

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.

Re:Well designed hero (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about 5 years ago | (#28960643)

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

Re:Well designed hero (1)

kannibal_klown (531544) | about 5 years ago | (#28960783)

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"

Re:Well designed hero (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 5 years ago | (#28961013)

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 dictionary?!) and was rarely just a damsel in distress. Gadget isn't exactly a great setting for an educational game, but the Penny character at least seems like a good model for what you're talking about.

Re:Obvious Edutainment is Doomed, Go With Puzzles (1)

Aphoxema (1088507) | about 5 years ago | (#28959901)

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

Re:Obvious Edutainment is Doomed, Go With Puzzles (1)

rhendershot (46429) | about 5 years ago | (#28960227)

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 is it science or scientific "literacy and awareness"?
They're not the same thing.

Re:Obvious Edutainment is Doomed, Go With Puzzles (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about 5 years ago | (#28960607)

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

Shoot Things! (1)

Flea of Pain (1577213) | about 5 years ago | (#28959631)

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!

Re:Shoot Things! (3, Insightful)

hippo_of_knowledge (445662) | about 5 years ago | (#28959805)

It's too bad that you could only bring 200 pounds of alien meat back to your space-wagon.

Re:Shoot Things! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28960001)

It's too bad that you could only bring 200 pounds of alien meat back to your space-wagon.

Because you just killed Rosie O'Donnell.

Re:Shoot Things! (1)

ausekilis (1513635) | about 5 years ago | (#28960791)

Even worse that half the team died of disentery (or whatever the most common disease was).

Re:Shoot Things! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28961311)

          Here lies
        AQUAMAN

peperony and
chease

It's all about the concepts (1)

freemywrld (821105) | about 5 years ago | (#28959665)

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 game to reach various goals, then students would not just learn random facts or trivia, but would actually gain experience in critical thinking and application of abstract information.

All of below: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28959691)

Here's a short list of things found in educational games:

The Towers of Hanoi
Numbers that need to be munched
People dying of dysentery
Typing tutorials which can let you get 300 words per minute by spamming the 'a' and space bar

Man, I miss my Apple 2e.

(p.s., captcha=expelled)

All I know (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28959703)

is that educational games are usually (by which I mean always) not fun.

Only one thing ever matters. (1)

Doc, the Weasel (827155) | about 5 years ago | (#28959779)

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.

My preference... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28959789)

What captivates me is some type of mystery where an unknown has to be solved. Totally dating myself here, but I remember spending hours playing "The Halley Project" on the old C64. Basically flying a spaceship around the solar system gathering clues on where to go next...heading to the library [this was pre internet] to research the clues, fly to the next destination, etc.

What's in an educational game? (0)

dyingtolive (1393037) | about 5 years ago | (#28959793)

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.

You need to start with the basics... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28959799)

Consider this idea for an educational RPG-based game: Imagine for a second you're at the home of Rob Malda. He's having breakfast with his long-time lover Michael Simms and the two are - of course - bickering like an old married couple. With me so far? Good. Michael ruffles the NY Times paper and coughs under his breath. Rob butters his toast and lights another Parliament. From under the table a mischievous cackling is heard. In a high, feminine falsetto, Rob asks Michael who's under there.

"Oh that's just ESR. He's been under there all night." Michael says and goes back to his paper. Sure enough, ESR crawls out from under the table dressed in women's thigh-high stockings (black) stiletto pumps and negligee. There are purple bruises under his left eye just at the cheek bone and what can be construed as crusted drying semen on the corners of his mouth; ESR has - apparently - had a rough night, indeed.

Ever since Eric Raymond had raped him at his house in Holland and later again at Slashdot New Year's Eve party, Rob Malda has had ESR living with him off and on. Michael doesn't care for the arrangement but who cares? So, sleeping until four or five in the evening, ESR would wake and surf the 'net for pictures of young, boyish men and call and talk tearfully to Hemos on the phone. He ignored Slashdot, thinking himself above editing tech-news, while his Open Source stocks slipped. Depression and anxiety had Rob so entirely that it seemed he would never again enjoy life. He had truly hit bottom.

Last night, Rob had forgotten his birthday but Hemos managed to coax him out for a night on the town across the state in Detroit. After their little road trip, the pair went on a shopping spree, took in a movie, and ate dinner at a very chic and expensive restaurant. After stopping for ice cream, the two friends headed to Rob's favorite Detroit night spot, the Malebox Bar. There they wasted no time dancing to the latest hard house remixes and downing shot after shot of watermelon Jolly Rancher drinks.

As time wore on and mix after mix pounded the dance floor, Rob and Hemos began feeling tipsy and decided to take a break in the club's arcade. The two fought through Mortal Kombat, went back and forth in Altered Beast, and played a couple rounds of Spy Hunter. The conversation had slowly turned to MAME, an Open Source program that emulated dozens of arcade games by means of illegally pirated ROM files, as they began playing Rampage. Rob and Hemos had gigs and gigs of illegally pirated ROM files.

"It's ludicrous playing video games here when we have MAME on our systems at home," Hemos said as he punched Rob in the back of the head and jumped halfway up a building.

"Yeah," Rob said as he smashed a tank. "But you can't get any action sitting at home playing video games like you can here."

"Too bad there's no way to pick up guys and play MAME at the same time," Hemos said as he ate a bathing woman and burped. "That would be the best."

"Yeah, that would be pretty great," Rob said.

Rob stopped climbing the building he was on, leaving Hemos to smash the building and jump away before it collapsed. Rob fell on his butt and lost some life.

"Rob, are you okay?" Hemos asked while button-mashing Rob's character into oblivion. "Rob?"

Hemos continued speaking, but Rob wasn't there. His eyes were wide and glazed, focused elsewhere. He was smiling weird and crooked as the game showed in reverse in his eyes. Hemos finally turned to look at Rob.

"Robert Hubert Malda!" Hemos yelled, hands on hips in frustration. Not waiting for a response, he reached out and pinched his friend's elbow. He didn't like that look in his eyes it always meant something bad was about to happen. Rob came to, shaking his head and stepping back from the game, which was now blinking GAME OVER at him. He turned and looked at Hemos, who was fuming.

"Jeff, uh, I'm sorry. I guess I zoned out there for a minute," he said as he looked around the bar. "I, um. I'll be right back."

"Jesus Christ, Rob!" Jeff said between breaths. "This thing is heavy and there's barely room for it in my back seat!"

"Ha, yeah right," Rob said, grunting. "There's always room in your back seat!"

Jeff rolled his eyes at Rob's little jab. "You be nice, you're lucky I'm letting you do this."

With one final shove and groan, Rob was finished, and the old, worn arcade game shell was wedged tightly the back seat of Jeff's VW Jetta. They bound the back doors to the machine with bungie cord and then tied their red hankies to it, sat down against the side of the car, and lit cigarettes.

"So what exactly are you going to do with this thing?" Hemos asked between puffs. "You're building a MAME system?"

"My plan is much more ambitious than just some MAME system," Rob said, smirking. "But it's based on the same concept. It also combines my love of hairless man-boys."

There was a depraved look of malignant inspiration in Rob's tired, bloodshot eyes.

"It was when you were talking about playing MAME and getting ass," Rob continued. "That very instant, on that very spot, I decided to build a twink molesting machine."

Hemos choked on his cigarette. "A what?" he asked in disbelief. Rob flicked his cigarette away and stood up. "I'm going to build a cage in which I can entrap young boys a cage from which they can't escape and are totally vulnerable in."

Hemos sighed. "Vulnerable to what, Rob?"

"To homosexual assault, of course!" Rob leered as he entered the passenger side door.

"Oh god, Rob," Hemos said, opening the driver's side door. "You have been watching way too much hentai!"

And with that, the car, weighed down by the old arcade machine, rolled off toward Holland.

Define your goal, then build the game (1)

guruevi (827432) | about 5 years ago | (#28959813)

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 going to get disengaged and not learn anything. If it takes to long to learn how to play the game or it gets too difficult too quick, the kids won't like it, likewise if it is going to be too easy for too long, they will again get bored. Maybe an algorithm that detects the rate of speed the kid is learning at or the level the kid is at already would be helpful. Then you will also require the story of the game to be involved in whatever you want to learn them. If for example you are trying to teach reading (and subsequently writing) you might not want to have too much multiple choice or clicking answers but have them type in answers. If you are trying to teach math they again will have to somehow learn math through involvement in the story. Math (addition, substraction, multiplication) is fairly simple for most but thinking about how to solve a math problem (understanding the problem) is much more involved and that is what they are going to need. Example: A company charges a flat rate of 7c per minute for a phone call but always charges at least 70c. What is the actual per minute cost of a 7 minute call. That is a question that I recently saw on an entrance exam for a college and a question that most of the students struggled with answering correctly.

Some general guidelines.
- Refrain from including a commercial character (eg. Spongebob or Teletubbies), that way you won't run into copyright issues and the game will also not become boring or old very quickly (whenever a new character comes out)
- Make sure you understand the level of understanding of your audience as well as their progress and at what point it is too easy, too difficult or too boring.
- Make sure you concentrate on a good story and a good involvement of your subject into that story.
- Make sure that the game makes the kids feel rewarded or feel better. If they are going to see it as a classroom/schooling instead of a game they will not get engaged in it.
- Ask an actual kid what they think about it at certain points. Make a storybook and ask them if that's something they'll like. Talk to child psychologists and teachers as well.

Fast to learn, hard to master (1)

santax (1541065) | about 5 years ago | (#28959817)

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.

What are you trying to teach? (1)

changedx (1338273) | about 5 years ago | (#28959843)

Education is a very broad term. Teaching language is very different from teaching arithmetic or science or music. Rock Band is decent for teaching beginning drum skills. An adventure game or even a specialized MMO could be useful for language immersion.

Mario is Missing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28959845)

Go rent it, or whatever.

Interactive exploration (1)

OrangeMonkey11 (1553753) | about 5 years ago | (#28959857)

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 (4, Interesting)

khayman80 (824400) | about 5 years ago | (#28959921)

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.

Re:MindRover (1)

techess (1322623) | about 5 years ago | (#28960335)

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:MindRover (2, Funny)

khayman80 (824400) | about 5 years ago | (#28960365)

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 (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28959943)

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 into the game itself. Nearly everybody these days knows the options one has to get a wagon across a river: ford the river, caulk the wagon and float it, or pay for the ferry. It was an integral part of the game and choosing was simple: just select one option and go. Since there were consequences from every decision, players grew to understand that fording a river that is 5 feet high was likely a bad idea and would cut the game short due to drowning.

What one can get from all of this is that the key to making an educational game is to incorporate what you are trying to teach into the game, while still letting the player bypass most of it.

mandate? how about "goal" (1)

rhendershot (46429) | about 5 years ago | (#28959967)

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?

Re:mandate? how about "goal" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28960123)

Alberta is in Canada. 501(c) is for U.S. Federal income taxes.

Re:mandate? how about "goal" (1)

rhendershot (46429) | about 5 years ago | (#28960159)

right but a Non Profit is likely to be registered in USA if from Canada. my assumption. pardons.

Re:mandate? how about "goal" (1)

CyberDong (137370) | about 5 years ago | (#28960895)

FYI: They're a registered charity [cra-arc.gc.ca] in Canada.

Instructional Objectives (1)

BlueBoxSW.com (745855) | about 5 years ago | (#28960023)

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 based on recall, your game is going to be one big pop quiz.

If you're teaching rules, you need to create a plausible scenario where they can make the right decision based on the rules, and design the game in a way that creates enough opportunities.

If you're teaching attitudes, you have a lot more flexibility in gameplay, but the number of different interactions if often limited.

You need to think about whether you want the game to actually teach people the information, or whether it should be a testing tool. And, while with games you want there to be a clear winner, the idea behind education is to teach everyone, so make sure the losers aren't simply discouraged from learning about the topic.

Re:Instructional Objectives (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28961173)

I am a hobbyist game designer, and I have one thing to say about this:
Don't attempt unless you are actually a game designer, or you are willing to learn to make other games just for the fun value first. The reason educational games are so painful to play is that the people making them believe that programming/graphics are the only required skills.
I have at least 4 books on game design sitting on my shelf, a lot more on graphics, why things are fun, a lot of powerpoints saved on my computer, and a lot of games which I have learned from.
I know "The normal flash games doesn't take that much work! That's just professional games!", that's because the normal flash game you find probably got really lucky. Game design takes work.

So please, either invest the time or don't. Half-assing it won't make anyone happy.

Research (2, Interesting)

Aphoxema (1088507) | about 5 years ago | (#28960031)

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.

Carmen Sandiego: Balanced Education and Gameplay (2, Interesting)

Coolwave (714139) | about 5 years ago | (#28960043)

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 engaging because you don't want it to be a tedious experience. If it is a short but intense experience you can always play a second round but if it takes too long or it becomes boring then the game will be abandoned and the point of it is lost. I my opinion is that 5 to 10 minute rounds of game play are best. It is short enough that a teacher might be able to sneak it in at the end of a class or depending on the platform a child can play quickly on a mobile device.

Read some of the literature... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28960071)

Serious games and educationally oriented games are beginning to take traction as a viable educational technology. Ask the Googles about "serious games". The research in this field has gone from researchers simply dismissing games to researchers embracing games and investigating the impact of games on targeted educational outcomes.

As a starting point Jim Gee has a great book on the subject. Here's a quick blurb: http://www.xplanazine.com/2004/10/what-video-games-have-to-tell-us-about-learning-and-literacy-a-brief-look
  and a link to the book from the Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Video-Games-Teach-Learning-Literacy/dp/1403961697

Better group to ask (2, Informative)

Monkeyboy4 (789832) | about 5 years ago | (#28960143)

Ask this question on twitter #gamedesign
A group of people with deeper expereince than here will have some thoughts on it.

Re:Better group to ask (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 5 years ago | (#28960757)

Horribly suggestion.

He isn't talking about designing a game, he is talking about what makes it interesting. And based on the many kids games, game developers have no clue how to create an educational kids game that is interesting.

Here we go.... (1)

CorporateSuit (1319461) | about 5 years ago | (#28960173)

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 addictive.

As far as gameplay goes, it's not that important as long as you've followed my instructions to this point. Try playing some of the old Super Solvers games -- we LOVED those games. Don't forget to include secrets and hidden clickables for the kids to laugh about. Put silly trivia in the loading screens (kids love trivia they can tell their parents) like "You can burp by swallowing a mouthful of air" or "A grizzly bear's nose is 1 million times more powerful than a human's!"

You only get to do it ONCE: (1)

kulakovich (580584) | about 5 years ago | (#28960199)

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

phet.colorado.edu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28960285)

Provide a way for kids to interact with sophisticated models in interesting ways. They'll learn to do science, not just that DNA is a double helix.

fantastic contraption (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28960313)

www.fantasticcontraption.com

Many 8 - 12 y/o's on shalshdot? (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 5 years ago | (#28960355)

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.

Re:Many 8 - 12 y/o's on shalshdot? (1)

querist (97166) | about 5 years ago | (#28960599)

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.

Re:Many 8 - 12 y/o's on shalshdot? (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 5 years ago | (#28960739)

There are many parents here.

Darwin Pond--What Spore should have been like (4, Informative)

plasmidmap (1435389) | about 5 years ago | (#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 (2, Interesting)

sevensykoseven (979467) | about 5 years ago | (#28960373)

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

Compatition!!!!!!!! (1)

cdpage (1172729) | about 5 years ago | (#28960377)

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 that many people like?

Immersion, think Myst (2, Insightful)

itsanx (1534709) | about 5 years ago | (#28960407)

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.

Re:Immersion, think Myst (1)

techess (1322623) | about 5 years ago | (#28960533)

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.

Re:Immersion, think Myst (1)

itsanx (1534709) | about 5 years ago | (#28960855)

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.

Re:Immersion, think Myst (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 5 years ago | (#28961129)

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 was even a kind of Turing Test! I remember reading it and thinking it sounded like a very fun way to learn those kinds of things and I wished they'd make a game like it. The water-gates-as-transistors part I thought was especially cool, and didn't seem that far from the kinds of puzzles you'd find in Myst.

Definitely potential in that area.

Does it runs in linux? (1)

gmuslera (3436) | about 5 years ago | (#28960429)

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.

How about table quiz format (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28960491)

I don't think it has to be complicated to be good (and addictive/engrossing)

A simple Q & A type thing with images etc., that gives feedback to the users can be very good.

Do a wiki search for "table quiz" - they are popular in the UK and Ireland.

Rosetta Stone whilst not a game is an educational application that is very rewarding to use.

Pirates! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28960575)

Historical based, but didn't have to learn a thing. And I get to shoot things and get into sword fights.

Wickedpissah games (1)

e9th (652576) | about 5 years ago | (#28960685)

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.

"Simple" (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 5 years ago | (#28960725)

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.

Having designed a few games myself... (1)

ausekilis (1513635) | about 5 years ago | (#28960743)

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 good game as some sort of objective, even puzzle games. Educational games are no different. Is there some Antagonist involved? "Beating level 7" is not as interesting as "taking down the evil emperor". With a younger audience, keep it simple and reasonable. Maybe becoming the star player of some game (soccer, baseball, etc..) or the best race car driver would work.
  • Define your approach. Using your story, how are some ways you can progress through it? If the objective is to conquer territory, then you'd have some way to win the game neighborhood-by-neighborhood. Almost Zelda-like in that you take down dungeon by dungeon before facing Ganon. Also consider the attention span of your audience. If you have one level that takes them 20 minutes of repetitive playing, you may lose a lot of players. If you're doing some sort of platform game, you may consider having some way to save progress. If you're doing simple web app games, then you'll want to keep them short and sweet.

We used this book [amazon.com] in a game design class I took. While certainly not an end-all-be-all book on game design, it certainly got the class thinking about some of the subtleties in games. How to approach accomplishment in the game, how to encourage the player to keep going (important for younger ones so they don't get frustrated), etc...

Educationalize This (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28960751)

fiasco [youtube.com] into a game.

Yours In Democracy,
Kilgore T.

Decent tooltips (1)

roguegramma (982660) | about 5 years ago | (#28960805)

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 Solid Romance (1)

digitalderbs (718388) | about 5 years ago | (#28960849)

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.

Educational content as "cheat codes" (3, Insightful)

jbeaupre (752124) | about 5 years ago | (#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.

You're asking the wrong people. (1)

jimicus (737525) | about 5 years ago | (#28960923)

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 generally teach anything very well. Guess what - most teachers don't like this software much and won't use it.
  • Teachers with a side interest in computing. The software teaches ideas beautifully, but tends to crash randomly, actively resists being deployed using any automated mechanism ("what's wrong with going to every PC, inserting a CD and typing D:\setup?") and assumes that the end user can write to C:\Windows.

Teaching is all about getting ideas across, so the people you need to talk to are the best teachers. Some may hang around on /., but by and large you're going to get ideas from people who have never tried to get ideas across in their life.

Parasite Eve (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28960947)

I did learn a lot about mithocondrias while playing parasite eve ( PlayStation ) .

Headbone Interactive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28960969)

Growing up, I played a number of great edutainment titles from Headbone Interactive, specifically the Elroy series. Since they were made in Macromedia Director, they could probably be ported to the web these days. What other company could be brave enough to make an entire game about pants? Pantsylvania was the strangest of the bunch...

Work some smackdown into it (1)

RevWaldo (1186281) | about 5 years ago | (#28960987)

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!"

Measurement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28961001)

Making a game that looks educational while still being fun is the easy part. The real challenge is figuring out whether or not a given game is actually contributing to learning. The research on measuring retention of facts learned through play, short term and long, is in a sad state.

Are you teaching content or skills? (1)

Ohio Calvinist (895750) | about 5 years ago | (#28961015)

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 want to constrain the player to North America because they are not good at the execution of game (e.g. flying a plane to photograph landmarks). If the goal is teaching memory-through-geography, I would constain them to a small geographic area until they demonstate proficiency. (granted, this is an oversimplification)

The Sim City games are like this... resource management skills are fundamental throughout, but as you go later the balancing, scope and city size make that skill harder to execute, but doesn't require the user to engage in complicated play before reaching the "resource management" stuff.

Also consider the question; "Is this a game that is going to be used directly by schools as part of their cirriculm or is this a game you're hoping kids will come to of their own volition?" It completely changes the level of "overtness" in learning that you can use to get their maximum adoption. This makes the distinction even more important because a teacher does not want users (students) to not reach the educational content for lack of game-playing skills.

The Most Important Subject of Educational Games (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28961275)

The most important thing to teach 8-12 year olds, more important than reading, writing, and 'rithmetic, is how to not have babies. We're going on 7 billion people with 3 people being added every second (taking in to account deaths; there are actually more births per second than that). Our resource consumption is edging out other animal species and melting the ice caps. Barbie's Horse Adventures should have an entire section on how horses are better than boys. Carmen Sandiego should be sure to visit pharmacies of all nations and explore the birth control options in each one. Wii Fit should teach lots of body positions where copulation isn't physically possible. Dungeon Maker 2000 should... well, Dungeon Maker 2000 is fine as it is. Guys staying indoors all summer long working out optimal orc placement in dungeons aren't going to be making any babies.

Games That Children Play (1)

SloppyElvis (450156) | about 5 years ago | (#28961357)

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 / Sandbox (Civilization, RTS)
  • Sports (should be obvious)
  • Kick The Can / Ghost in the Graveyard (stealth)
  • Puzzles / Mysteries / Riddles (another obvious one)
  • Coloring / Painting / Singing / Play-Doh (art and music composition games)
  • Dancing (rhythm games)
  • Stories / Reading (adventure)

...and all of these are of course more fun to play with friends and family.

All of these activities have intrinsic educational value. For science, I suspect Puzzle games would perhaps best develop problem-solving, experimentation, and observational skills. Just remember to make it fun.

Just say no (1)

nixdroid (1482893) | about 5 years ago | (#28961365)

First, please find yourself a dictionary and look up the words "science" and "technology". They are not the same thing. (While you're at it look up the words "education" and "training".) Creating and playing electronic games is quite appealing to us technologists, but is in no sense science. And learning how to program is technical training, not education. Instead give them some copper wire, a couple of nails some wood and let them do some real science.

My son is only 5 years old, but... (2, Interesting)

Ironica (124657) | about 5 years ago | (#28961419)

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.

Talking From Experience (1)

SmarkWoW (1382053) | about 5 years ago | (#28961455)

Speaking from experience in playing educational games. I'm currently a 19 year old male. My Father, being very tech oriented, bought me MANY educational PC games, I'll just list a few:

JumpStart $X Grade by Knowledge Adventure [wikipedia.org] (where $X is 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, though I lost interest after 4th)
Super Solvers: Gizmos & Gadgets by The Learning Company [wikipedia.org]

JumpStart 3rd Grade and Gizmos & Gadgets were by far my favorite at the time. As a previous reply brought up, I also played Age of Empires 2: Gold Edition as a kid... I remember a specific campaign entitled "El Sid" where you go kill the Spanish King (if I recall). It was later brought up in an 11th grade history class.

JumpStart was by far the best game, the general plot: A scientist owns this huge mansion built into a mountain. He has a bratty little girl. The scientist goes off to some convention, while hes away his daughter fails a history test so she decides to use her fathers time machine to alter history to match her test answers. She sends back various robotic inhabitants of the mansion back in time to alter various parts of history (IE instead an astronomer discovering that the Sun is the center of the Solar System, he discovers that Polly (the daughter) is the center of the solar system). You help the "head robot" to prevent Polly from altering time. You perform various puzzles around the mountain to get clues and charg up the time machine. Some include learning about art, cooking, doing multiplication, patterns (simon says), Hand-eye coordination (a moonlander type game), among MANY others.

Gizmo's & Gadgets was also one of my favorite games. The Learning Company makes a huge amount of education games, Super Solvers, Midnight Madness, Reader Rabbit, etc. Basically in G&G a mad scientist owns a car construction shop right next to your car construction shop, and hes threatening to take you over. He decides to race you 20 times with 20 different vehicles (cars/planes/helicopters). You agree and he cheats by sending over a bunch of chimps (actual monkeys) to your shop to steal all your parts. Basically you have to go out to the warehouse, and get your parts back. Because of how its layed out you have to do various puzzles. For instance, weight balancing, electrical wiring (basic light bulb, switch, batteries, but does teach series/parallel), Energy, Force, Magnetics, Simple Machines, and Gears. Anyway, you get various parts back and build your car and race. If you lose you go back and make it better (different propellor, wheels, etc) until you win.

Educational games can be fun. I'm speaking from experience. I liked G&G so much that I still have an ISO of it 10 years later. Sadly it wont run on any current operating sytems, someday I'll start up a W98se Virtual machine and play around with it. If you're looking for more research take a look at Borderbund, Knowledge Adventure, and The Learning Company.

Thanks,
Smark
http://www.spectralcoding.com/ [spectralcoding.com]
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