Challenges of Creating Educational Games

Errol Danehy ’18

Educational games, considered by some as part of a category of media called “edutainment,” can be powerful tools for learning. They incorporate educational material into play, which has been shown to provide better learning outcomes. Children learn through play, but after primary school, education becomes “serious,” and learning becomes incompatible with and separate from fun. The evidence suggests that young adults and adults would benefit from a blending of fun and learning, which is where educational games come into play.

As can be expected, there are a great many challenges that face would-be edutainment producers. First, the onus is on them to not only make a fun game, but to also craft an effective educational plan. These aspects must be melded seamlessly into what will become the edutainment experience. Normally two separate disciplines, game design and education design must come together in one team: a difficult first step, to say the least.

Both the “edu” and the “tainment” aspects of educational games must not only be present, but should be well-made. There is a golden zone in which the educational game is neither too gamey nor too pedantic or boring; this zone is the goal for edutainment design teams. The educational aspects are the most challenging. Games are not easy to make, but we all have a basic idea of how games work: there is a problem that the player must solve, and successfully solving that problem should lead to a reward. Even the most basic of games can be engaging for hours on end (see Pong or endless runner games). Education, however, is much harder to get right.

The edutainment experience should be designed with specific learning goals in mind. What should the player retain at the end? Is the lesson based around simple facts, or is the focus more on abstract concepts? How can the game be incorporated into an academic lesson plan—the optimal situation for learning—and also be played as a standalone experience?  This  last question does not necessarily apply to all educational games, but it is one that the Gaspee team wants to address.

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