Education is fun… maybe?

So after finishing Never Alone, I realised that it was the first game I’ve played since my pre-teens that has an educational component to it. So I thought back to those educational games I played in primary school and despite being dazzled by the new fad of interactive computer games, I now know they were either not very fun, or not very educational.

There were those hundreds of maths “games” which taught maths quite effectively, though weren’t necessarily fun (except for the competitive ones). When the teacher declared computer game time, once the groups of 3 had been formed (there weren’t a lot of computers), there was always a mad rush for Gizmos and Gadgets and Zoombinis (a bunch of people in their mid-20s just got excited). They were classified as educational, but I think that was only because they required human-level frontal lobe capacity. They were really fun puzzle games and while they helped develop problem-solving skills, most video games do. They were no more educational than any other video game.

I mentioned that Never Alone has an educational component to it, which was the documentary it delivered in small components, unlockable by finding insightful owls. The game mechanics didn’t have any educational aspects to them, so at first, I thought the game couldn’t really be classified as educational. The documentary watching is optional, not integral to the game as far as a delivery goes. But after further thought, I realised that while education wasn’t tied into the mechanics, it was tied into the story and world building; the documentary essentially acting as lore for the game.

At this year’s PAX, I attended the science panel which talked briefly about using games as educational tools. A teacher on the panel brought two examples; Minecraft and Kerbal Space Program. Both games aren’t intended to be educational, but teach some core lessons. She used Minecraft to teach about rocks, minerals and gems to primary school-aged children, and used Kerbal Space Program to teach – surprise, surprise – orbital physics.

I’m always curious to play educational games to see if I actually learn anything. I learnt a lot about about the Inupiat culture from Never Alone. Even if I hadn’t watched the documentaries, having the knowledge subtly interwoven into the story was a clever idea. While this method of teaching is limited, it’s still an effective tool.

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