For the past few weeks, I’ve been playing through video games that explore civics and history in an attempt to gain insight into what type of educational video games exist out there and what I thought about them. Given my experience with consumer video games, I felt that it would be interesting to play through educational games for comparison. This was an enlightening, and oftentimes quite frustrating, experience for me.
I will say upfront that many of the educational games that I played were not fun. There was no inherent pleasure or excitement in playing them, and that is one of the most important aspects of a video game. One of the educational goals of video games is to make learning fun. Given the types of audiences these games are trying to reach, it seems important to create something that would be fun to play as well as educational. My thoughts throughout the entire process of playing these games is that there are commercially successful games that have really good ideas on how to make a fun game that aren’t particularly complicated in how they run or how to play. Double Fine’s works (Grim Fandango and Broken Age) are a good example of point and click adventure games, and they have engaging stories and gameplay. They are also very accessible in regards to actually playing through the games. The only educational game that I played that I thoroughly enjoyed (Jamestown Game) was only entertaining to me when I was completely going against the history of Jamestown. This game only lasted about 5 minutes total, as well, which is not going to be engaging for long for students, with written explanations of what the Jamestown settlers actually did when everything is completed.
I feel that there must be a way to incorporate the engaging stories of civics and history while including fun gameplay in a way that would make educational games fun and exciting for students. Mission US is the closest to an educational game that had the makings to be something fun while helping students learn. The classic style “point and click” games, where one is able to gain items to solve puzzles and choose dialogue options, have been very successful in commercial venues. This style is what Mission US follows; however, in its attempts to follow history and allow choices, the writing is very flat and uninteresting. If there was a way to keep this style for learning about civics and history while providing a narrative that is well-written and promotes learning while being fun (easier said than done, I know!), I feel that it would be a successful educational game.
The educational games, much to my surprise, also had a lot of accessibility issues. Many of them came with no subtitles, which limits the ability of students with hearing issues to engage with the games. However, this also made me question how students would be playing these games in general. Would they have headphones? Would they play in a classroom? Would they play in groups? These types of questions are important to consider when creating an educational game. I have not encountered many commercial video games that do not have subtitles or allow for toggling them on or off. This feature should be very important to reach a broad audience with educational games. There were also very few games for younger students. The primary focus was on middle and high school students. The few that were accessible to younger students had no educational value whatsoever.
Overall, I felt like this experience was incredibly helpful for me to try and think about what the goals of educational games actually are and how well they accomplish that task. I see that there are currently many limitations on how educational games can work (resources to create them, writing, accessibility, age groups, etc).The primary goal of educational games is to make learning entertaining, but I think that many of the games currently out there miss the mark. Using engaging writing with a coherent storyline–whether it is historical, on civics, or anything else–will help many educational games to reach their intended goal. When I think of educational game, I think of the games I played when I was a kid–Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego. These were very story-driven games, which I think is the important aspect that we should focus on.