OPINION: Being Social with Educational Games

OPINION: Being Social with Educational Games
Aaron Lee

By Aaron Lee

October 8th 2010 at 4:00PM

Aaron Lee ponders the merits of educational titles with a social hook

Ask anyone with an affinity for games and they’ll almost always agree that playing games with friends is far more enjoyable.

From cracking skulls in online multiplayer to deciphering clues together in Professor Layton, playing with friends can make even the dullest of games shine - if only for a brief time. So are modern educational games encouraging school children to learn and play together?

I must confess my experience with recent educational games is slim. I’ve not tested out the latest GCSE maths wizard, memorised a BBC Bitesize quiz or attempted to ace the Spelling Bee web game. Most of the educational software I used in my early years was incredibly dry. No sense of adventure, no thrill of discovery, no cheer of victory. Just static questions, the occasional piece of voiceover that was inevitable muted and an invitation to restart the practice test - as many times as it takes, until I got the elusive 100 per cent.

Educational games are built for a clear purpose, but I believe that many of them could be more inventive with their structure, and turn the learning process into something that naturally encourages social participation.

There is one educational title that sticks out in my mind as being a triumph of purpose and participation: The Logical Journey of the Zomobinis. There was one Acorn computer at my primary school, located in between to two classrooms, and that’s where a group of us would congregate to observe the curious escapades of these limbless blue critters known as Zomobinis.

Zomobinis was engaging from the very start because it had a story. There was a reason for completing the challenges, to see what was around the next corner, to get the Zomobinis to safety. Though customisation was basic, users were asked to create a whole group of Zomobinis, which meant all those gathered could have their favourite - like a role-playing party with zero levelling up. And as a game, the logic puzzles encouraged a lot of discussion and participation from whoever happened to be passing by at the time. Someone may have been stuck on the Pizza Pass puzzle. Another person would suggest a solution, and before you know it we’re discussing probability and averages without even realising it.

Although it may not always have been obvious, I think Zomobinis supplemented subjects I learnt about in class by applying them to something fun. And it prompted valuable discussion, which is a lot more than can be said for the Turtle Graphics

With the many advancements we’ve seen in web technologies and social networking, surely some educational games must be making their way into playground conversations. Channel 4’s series of educational games are certainly a positive step, teaching teenagers about classroom taboos, from politics to sex education. Quirky and unafraid to show you their underbelly, these games are just the type of thing teenagers share on Facebook and chat about the following morning.

The digital environment now gives us more scope than ever to connect people and encourage involvement. Where are the Facebook general studies tests where you can compare answers with your friends? Where’s the Flash game where you mine the periodic table, forever after those rare metals. Where’s the mobile trading card game of important historical figures, each with their own power-ups and special moves? See, a little inventiveness could make educational games a lot more social. package.