Monday, August 4, 2008


With brain training games and recent moves to turning the DS into a cookbook or language trainer I was not surprised to hear a gamer comment on how much he dislikes this trend. In his opinion it is like giving the educational system the middle finger. Additionally, games are supposed to be fun; these types of games dilute the identity of gaming. For gamers who mistakenly purchase these games, or have them purchased for them, frustration is inevitable. Given that these titles are competition for “actual” games, the gaming market is only being harmed.

This is what I would say if I believed any of it. A central theme to all games is learning: You learn rules, timing, mechanics, strategies, physics, language, statistics, etc. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be able to play the game. For game designers, one of the most important parts of game creation is making this educational process engaging.

It is sad that educational games do not make up a major component of the market today. Realize that brain training games are not “educational games”, nor are those little cartridges you can get for your DS that teach you French. One is not inherently educational; the other is not inherently a game. However, these titles do fill a market gap and further expand the culture of gaming. Brain trainers are amusing. They serve up a daily dose of mini-games that are clever enough not to even try to pretend to be anything other than mini-games. And DS styled text-books are no more offensive to the educational system than a bookstore.

As for actual educational games: how I long for the days of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego (and not that recent action / adventure PS2 nonsense). When I was a kid, Carmen taught me about nations and socio-political-economics in an exaggerated cartoon world of mystery. A later instalment threw in a time machine which added historical events to the mix (and proceeded to make the game way too hard for an eleven year old). This made school more entertaining and fun for me: social studies became a strategy guide. Ultimately, I began to earn better grades.

I don’t understand the resistance to educational games past the “Dora the Explorer” age range. Parasite Eve on the PS1 taught me so much about human cell structure within the context of biological science fiction it was almost silly. How many more A’s would students earn if this kind of culture was layered onto the schooling world?

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