Educational games

Straight to the point: every game is educational, but ones are more educational than others and in different aspects.

For instance people can learn a lot about weapons with some realistic shooters, which may be useful for the army and pretty useless in many other cases. If snipers were more realistic players would require to learn some concepts about physics, how wind affects the bullet, etc. Driving simulators may help to learn to drive, this is already happening to some extent pilots use simulators before risking valuable planes. Even Guitar Hero could help to learn to play the guitar (a real guitar), if it was more realistic.

If games were more realistic they would be more complex, arguably less fun, but the point is to have the right learning curve and difficulty ladder, so that it is natural to increase in realism and difficulty step by step. Games like Demon Souls proved gamers like challenges and games like Starcraft proved that gamers can get to be fairly competitive and skilled on games, up to the extent of being considered "proffesionals", and is a game considered to have a quite serious cognitive load.

Without being realistic, games can teach a lot, Theme Hospital is perfect for queueing theory, games like Caesar and Pharaoh give valuable lessons about operations research, and the economy in Eve Online is a simplified version of the real economy, so anything learned there is extrapolatable in a very straightforward way, even if it happens in a completely fictional world (SciFi actually).

Every game is educational, every game presents a challenge to overcome and requires the gamer to learn something to overcome that challenge. A game has to be fun which is a combination of feelings like challenge, power, freedom, achievement and reward. Games are fun and addictive because of this sense of achievement, because the gamers feel they are learning something. Learning is addictive, when a game is mastered and there are no achievements ("official" or self-motivated) left to obtain it becomes boring, usually it becomes boring as hell and the gamer seeks for a new source of challenges, something new to learn and master.

Games are fun as far as there is something new to learn and master. Education is basically about learning. They seem to be perfect allies. Why are educational games a niche full of games that don't seem any fun when compared with the best sellers? On educational games the stress seems to be on the educational part, and not on the game part. A game has to be fun. Educational games are usually constrained by a syllabus, they focus on presenting stuff in a clear and educational way, which is good, but not the nature of a game.

Every game is educational, a point that those making "educational games" seem to be missing, they have to, otherwise their whole model would collapse if every game was an "educational game". The focus is set on trying to make education fun, trying to make a game out of it, but it is from the same old perspective of the knowledge that is to be conveyed, not on the game, the challenge or the use of this knowledge. Paradoxically, educators are meant to make everything easy to understand, not challenging, thus the game becomes boring, with this the game fails as a game, and without emotions the education fails as an aid to learning, because the best way to make something memorable is to attach an emotional load to it, it is well known there is a strong link between emotion and memory.

There is no need to make "educational games", because every game is educational. The point is to make games that are "more educational", therefore the shortest and easiest path is to make "regular games" that are "more educational" than the games we see nowadays. Trying to make a game out of education is (more often than not) failing and a paradox. Some games attempted this in the past to a greater or lesser extent, for instance the Fable franchise explicitly attempted to teach some lessons about morality, which is a complex and subjective matter. However, this is not the norm nowadays.

For instance, something applicable to most games and fairly simple would be displaying some numbers. This would allow the gamers to improve their algebra skills instead of trying to guess which weapon should they pick for which enemies, and the guessing option would still be there for those that don't want to make the numbers. A genre that shows a great potential is strategy games, either real time or turn based. In the case of historic strategy games, like Civilization, this could lead not only to learn knowledge that can be used to beat the game, but also related historical events. Every game has a story, and the story could be part of the history, as simple as that.

Personally, I hope there is a paradigm shift in "educational games" and developers and educators focus on transforming regular games into games that are more educational, because there is a great potential to be untapped down that path, IMHO.

What's your opinion about "educational games"?

Note: Post motivated by an article in mashable.

PS: Bonus: I am improving my English vocabulary with Bioware games, which are not dubbed to Spanish. BTW: Sorry if my English is weird.

5 Comments
5 Comments
Posted by Trylks

Straight to the point: every game is educational, but ones are more educational than others and in different aspects.

For instance people can learn a lot about weapons with some realistic shooters, which may be useful for the army and pretty useless in many other cases. If snipers were more realistic players would require to learn some concepts about physics, how wind affects the bullet, etc. Driving simulators may help to learn to drive, this is already happening to some extent pilots use simulators before risking valuable planes. Even Guitar Hero could help to learn to play the guitar (a real guitar), if it was more realistic.

If games were more realistic they would be more complex, arguably less fun, but the point is to have the right learning curve and difficulty ladder, so that it is natural to increase in realism and difficulty step by step. Games like Demon Souls proved gamers like challenges and games like Starcraft proved that gamers can get to be fairly competitive and skilled on games, up to the extent of being considered "proffesionals", and is a game considered to have a quite serious cognitive load.

Without being realistic, games can teach a lot, Theme Hospital is perfect for queueing theory, games like Caesar and Pharaoh give valuable lessons about operations research, and the economy in Eve Online is a simplified version of the real economy, so anything learned there is extrapolatable in a very straightforward way, even if it happens in a completely fictional world (SciFi actually).

Every game is educational, every game presents a challenge to overcome and requires the gamer to learn something to overcome that challenge. A game has to be fun which is a combination of feelings like challenge, power, freedom, achievement and reward. Games are fun and addictive because of this sense of achievement, because the gamers feel they are learning something. Learning is addictive, when a game is mastered and there are no achievements ("official" or self-motivated) left to obtain it becomes boring, usually it becomes boring as hell and the gamer seeks for a new source of challenges, something new to learn and master.

Games are fun as far as there is something new to learn and master. Education is basically about learning. They seem to be perfect allies. Why are educational games a niche full of games that don't seem any fun when compared with the best sellers? On educational games the stress seems to be on the educational part, and not on the game part. A game has to be fun. Educational games are usually constrained by a syllabus, they focus on presenting stuff in a clear and educational way, which is good, but not the nature of a game.

Every game is educational, a point that those making "educational games" seem to be missing, they have to, otherwise their whole model would collapse if every game was an "educational game". The focus is set on trying to make education fun, trying to make a game out of it, but it is from the same old perspective of the knowledge that is to be conveyed, not on the game, the challenge or the use of this knowledge. Paradoxically, educators are meant to make everything easy to understand, not challenging, thus the game becomes boring, with this the game fails as a game, and without emotions the education fails as an aid to learning, because the best way to make something memorable is to attach an emotional load to it, it is well known there is a strong link between emotion and memory.

There is no need to make "educational games", because every game is educational. The point is to make games that are "more educational", therefore the shortest and easiest path is to make "regular games" that are "more educational" than the games we see nowadays. Trying to make a game out of education is (more often than not) failing and a paradox. Some games attempted this in the past to a greater or lesser extent, for instance the Fable franchise explicitly attempted to teach some lessons about morality, which is a complex and subjective matter. However, this is not the norm nowadays.

For instance, something applicable to most games and fairly simple would be displaying some numbers. This would allow the gamers to improve their algebra skills instead of trying to guess which weapon should they pick for which enemies, and the guessing option would still be there for those that don't want to make the numbers. A genre that shows a great potential is strategy games, either real time or turn based. In the case of historic strategy games, like Civilization, this could lead not only to learn knowledge that can be used to beat the game, but also related historical events. Every game has a story, and the story could be part of the history, as simple as that.

Personally, I hope there is a paradigm shift in "educational games" and developers and educators focus on transforming regular games into games that are more educational, because there is a great potential to be untapped down that path, IMHO.

What's your opinion about "educational games"?

Note: Post motivated by an article in mashable.

PS: Bonus: I am improving my English vocabulary with Bioware games, which are not dubbed to Spanish. BTW: Sorry if my English is weird.

Posted by DeadVillager

I feel like the question as to the educational value of videogames ignores the line between the game world and the real world. Players learn in games what is necessary to succeed in that game - but almost all of that information and experience can be next to useless in the real world. It's the precise reason why people who don't play videogames often might see the whole thing as a waste of time. Just because somebody cleared Deus Ex: HR without being detected a single time doesn't make them a viable candidate for large scale corporate espionage.

The reason why some games have information that is relevant to people outside of the boundaries of that specific game world isn't for educational reasons. Having some amount of preexisting familiarity with a game's world make immersing into it much easier for the player. In fact, this is one of the big appeals of the Civilization series as a whole. Even though there is some degree of historical and cultural knowledge that a player might be able to pick out of the game, the reason why the gist of the game is appealing is because the player gets to imagine leading some of the greatest cultures in human history. So, after dumping 115 hours into Civ the player might be able to place Siam on a list of great cultures, but that doesn't exactly mean that he or she was playing an educational game, or even that the game could be considered educational. If they dropped 115 hours into World of Warcraft they might come out and be able to say just as much about the history of the Blood Elves that they can about Darius II and the Persians. The player was just immersed within the boundaries of the game, and was learning about the game within those boundaries accordingly.

Any resulting knowledge that comes from that game might be considered valuable, but it's still just a coincidental result of playing the game, and praising videogames for this small transition between a game world and the real one tends to ignore and devalue the real qualities and charms that the medium has to offer.

In terms of my opinion on educational games, nothing I just said really has anything to do about games that are specifically designed to be educational, which is another entity entirely that deals with the challenge of turning education into a game for the ease of learning. It's more about my reluctance to use the idea that games have the ability to educate as a method of vindicating a medium to people who aren't prepared to recognize any of the more immediate and endearing qualities that games have to offer.

Posted by Trylks

@DonNoFace: Well, for me games are art, this is not about vindication but about expansion and exploration of the potential and possibilities of games.

Learning is inherently fun, if school isn't fun and inspiring, then there is something very wrong about it, and it's partially due to a massification and industrialization of education that many people have been denouncing for quite some time. For instance Isaac Asimov's vision on education is more proactive and individualistic, and I agree that's a more human education.

More than vindicating the value of games in education I would say the point is to express my opinion about what I consider a wrong approach, which is trying to combine games and education, setting the focus on education and not on games. I think the approach taken is wrong, trying to convert education into a game, instead of trying to convert games into something that is more educational. This doesn't mean all games should focus on being educational, in the end consumers will simply choose what they want, and I don't have the knowledge nor the expertise to be able to say the society is wrong in any aspect. I simply speak as a user of games and education, and my opinion is that the approach taken for the so called "educational games" is wrong.

@DonNoFace said:

I feel like the question as to the educational value of videogames ignores the line between the game world and the real world. Players learn in games what is necessary to succeed in that game - but almost all of that information and experience can be next to useless in the real world. [...]

The reason why some games have information that is relevant to people outside of the boundaries of that specific game world isn't for educational reasons. [...] The player was just immersed within the boundaries of the game, and was learning about the game within those boundaries accordingly.

Any resulting knowledge that comes from that game might be considered valuable, but it's still just a coincidental result of playing the game, and praising videogames for this small transition between a game world and the real one tends to ignore and devalue the real qualities and charms that the medium has to offer.

You raise a very interesting point here. Indeed gamers will learn about the virtual world where the game happens, and will even master that knowledge. The point is: how extrapolatable is that knowledge to the real world? It really depends on the type of knowledge. Any knowledge that is fundamental, like maths, which are in the foundations of many sciences, will be very extrapolatable, no matter how unrelated with reality the game is, if you check the examples in the first post, you'll see most of them are in the realm of maths. For other types of knowledge it will depend on the realism of the game, that is the case for all the games that are simulators, from driving to playing an instrument, being a major in a city or an attorney.

Again we find that realism is something that is often praised in games. If Forza gets to be more realistic that is great, fans will probably love it*, people like learning, people like having fun, and they can get really addicted to learning something to the extent of mastering it if it is fun. Combining games and education is so natural it doesn't need to be vindicated.

So basically, how educational a game is depends on how extrapolatable to the real world the knowledge in that game is. That's a very good point. If we analyse it we find it's more extrapolatable either if the knowledge is very fundamental, like maths, or if the world in the game is similar wrt that knowledge to the real world, which means the game is realistic wrt that knowledge. If a game doesn't match these requisites, it's ok, it won't be very educational but as long as it is fun, entertaining, inspiring or profitable in any way it is serving its purpose properly.

However, if education is not fun then it's failing at its purpose. If lessons are boring students will forget what they learned, and they will probably be doing the right thing by forgetting those lessons, because we have two worlds again, one is in the classroom, and the other one is the real world. The lessons in education have to be mapped to the real world and have to be useful in the real world, if students cannot see how those lessons can be extrapolated to the real world then the education is failing because the students are meant to learn what they learn to use that knowledge outside of the classroom. But if students learn something they can use, they will have fun learning and using that knowledge.

That is the way it is meant to be. Children often love learning to read, because there are plenty of things to read and it's interesting to read them, they will read out loud everything they see, even if it is hard for them, because they see that in the real world. However they seldom solve complex equations just for fun (even if it is equally hard at the relative age), unless they find those equations in the real world, or in a virtual world, which is very rarely the case.

I think that gives, at least, some interesting food for thought about what should children learn at school, what is useful for them and how to show that usefulness in the real world, the classroom or a virtual world, which is the same as making it fun.

* this doesn't mean all games should be realistic, Mario Kart can still exist and be really fun, it will simply be less educational.

Posted by LD50

Games promote critical thinking, imo. There is surely not enough of that in the world.

Posted by Trylks

@LD50: Sure we could use some more critical thinking for good. I'm very interested on how games may promote critical thinking, I'm actually interested in any way of promoting critical thinking. Do you have any more information wrt that?