According to a recent Ipsos MORI poll in the UK, three in five 11 - 16 year olds are in favour of using video games in the classroom. I'll let Eurogamer break down the numbers for you, but suffice to say this is a bit of legitimacy/ego self pleasure for the video game industry.
"Using video games to teach kids," goes the theory "makes it a more legitimate entertainment form." Sure, why not? There are, however, a couple of major flaws in this plan. Speaking as a chap who has worked with and around kids of various ages in recent times, here are my reasons why educating kids with video games is extremely difficult (not impossible, but the word "difficult" introduced into the vernacular of any publicly funded education system is read as "impossible", for various reasons we won't go into here.)
So, what has to happen to make educational video gaming a worthwhile pursuit? Well, the games need to have high production values, educate in an indirect way, and they must be used to teach the right things beyond simple boring facts and figures.
The best way of doing this is not for educators and educational game developers to invest large wads of cash into the development of a whole new subset of the gaming industry. The educational sector should instead piggy back on the success of the commercial sector by utilising the same game engines, even games themselves, that the kids are playing at home to educate.
Why aren't id, Epic, Valve, Firaxis, Maxis and Paradox, among others, producing educational video games? Why haven't we seen an educational version of Half-Life? Don't scoff, there's plenty you could teach through that game - apart from the logic busting skills, in terms of straightforward learning you've got physics and social history as the obvious two. Stick in a load of those director commentary bubbles and replace them with explanations of what's going on and hey presto, you have an educational video game that's a whole hellova lot more fun than "Where's Carmon Whatshername?"
Civilization IV is educational as it is, but you could quite easily modify it to be even more so, bringing the Civlopaedia to the fore. Explain more about the history of technologies whilst kids are researching them, explain the basics of trade, industry and diplomacy as they play.
The Sims could be modified for all kinds of teaching - home economics, for example. How to buy a house, how to raise a family, how to budget a household, heck even sex education if you want.
There is no shortage of educational video games out there on the market - it's just that we haven't tapped the potential. Given their commercial aspect all of the above video games have commercial production values, and modifying them to be more educational than they already are costs a lot less than building an educational game from scratch, only to see it shunned by the kids.
Unfortunately I can't see this shift towards repurposing existing games towards education happening until at least parents, teachers, administrators and politicians are of a gaming generation who can understand and properly exploit gaming for the purpose of education.
Until then, kids will have to put up with another bore of a class when yet another sub-par game tries to teach them their 7 times tables with crap graphics, a basic interface and absolutely no relation to the cutting edge, immensely fun games they enjoy at home.
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