Educational games: content vs creator

Video games have become standard pastimes within the lives of modern children, thus educators have been seeking ways to use games to reach children. Games are engaging and make the player the driver of content instead of the teacher. Since games are experiences where players focus on completing objectives and growing, gameplay is an ideal vessel for learning.

The key to the power of learning from games is that the knowledge gained is experiential; meaning the path from unknown to known is personally experienced by the student. Though subtly different it is the change in narrative that impacts the retention of a memory; “After crossing the icy Delaware River late on Christmas Day 1776, Washington’s forces struck the Hessian garrison in Trenton on the morning of December 26.” Or  “As the snow fell on our camp and the sun had just begun to rise, Washington turned to me and told me to bring him his horse, I ran to the stable, I heard cannons firing in the distance, the fighting had already begun. I grabbed his horse and brought it to him, he climbed upon it and took off for the battle field, I followed quickly on my horse…” Within this scene the gameplay could be part of any game’s narrative set in a war; but by including real world content, the game serves as an opportunity to learn through experience.

(Assassin’s Creed III featured George Washington as a main non player character; blurring the line between history and fiction.)

Educational games are constantly running into the problem of having the right content but the wrong creator. That is to say that instead of being designed by game developers they are designed by educators. This leads to lackluster gameplay, confusing a fun experience for one that distracts too much from the content.

While educators need to be part of the process to ensure that the game serves its educational purpose, it must be taken into consideration that educational games must first and foremost be good games. Since game content is a maliable framing for gameplay it is easier to work in reverse and apply educational content to a fun game or mechanic.

The education community must establish partnerships across the two industries to take full advantage of the immersive learning experience games can provide. In order for this to occur the two sides will need to shift away from educational games being commissioned projects. By nurturing long term collaborative relationships between the two industries, by moving towards the encouraged inclusion of educational content in games; we may begin to see some truly incredible games which will also serve as teaching materials, as relevant as any textbook.


Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.

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