Saturday, June 10, 2017

Edutainment Games: What They Need

Educational entertainment? Edutainment? Games that are meant to teach players some valuable lessons?

If you're not used to this side of gaming, then don't worry. Many gamers haven't had good experiences on this side of gaming anyway. You can lump in "Serious Games" as part of this package, but let's try to focus on games that relate to what was written about in the above link. The picture I put up above is a title screen of a Math Blaster game. Have any of my blog readers played a Math Blaster game when they were young? Do you guys remember what that gaming experience was like? Perhaps when you look back on that experience, you probably won't have fond memories of them. Not because the makers of the Math Blaster games didn't try to make the experience fulfilling, but rather the games themselves just came across as looking dull.

That is what the article in the above link is hinting at. The author of the linked article states that educational video games, Math Blaster and other games of its ilk, just never got things right. The author does go on to state that there's a special nickname for games that fit the Math Blaster mold, and that would be "chocolate-covered broccoli". Now I've never had broccoli dipped in chocolate, but I can only imagine that the taste of that wouldn't be so good! Yuck!

The attempts of establishing the medium of Edutainment were all innocent in the late 1980's and 1990's because certain companies wanted to touch base with children who were starting to get used to playing all the hip and cool video games of those times. The NES, SNES and Sega Genesis were video game royalty in this time period, and as children were getting hooked into playing for hours, other companies were trying to get creative in helping these same children succeed in the classroom at school.

Chocolate-covered broccoli was coined by the author of the book Utopian Entrepreneur, Brenda Laurel in the year 2001. She believes that the Edutainment genre poorly tried to make the entertainment part of these gaming experiences mean something to the player. While the educational part had enough bulk to it, the entertainment part was obviously lacking. Therefore there wasn't enough of a balance between the two that could actually keep players (children at school) interested long-term.

By all means, even the big name video game companies themselves are not exempt from this. Remember what Nintendo did around this same time period? Remember Mario's Time Machine? Mario Is Missing? Mario Paint? Only 1 of these 3 games have managed to maintain a respectable reputation, and that would be Mario Paint as you can listen to pretty decent (and even awesome) beats that remind you of pop culture themes on YouTube.

Mario's Time Machine and Mario Is Missing! were both duds, however. I mean they were REAL duds! In one game as Mario you were pitted with the task of basically being Marty McFly, repairing the Space-Time Continuum by retrieving objects (apples) once you traveled to certain time periods, and all the while supposedly learning some stuff about world history. In Mario Is Missing! you played as only Luigi, and with occasional help from Yoshi, Toad and some Koopas, you would try your best to locate just where Mario was as you would be given geography lessons. Both of these games I just described are considered cringe-worthy to this day.

It's funny that I'm posting this at a time when children are out of school and enjoying their Summer vacation, but hey, anything newsworthy for video game content is great!

If you attempt to make a game in the Edutainment genre, then it's wise to make sure that there's a significant balance between the two categories of education and entertainment. If one category suffers, then the other category won't be able to make up for the lost quality. It really is that simple. If I give you the educational lesson but fail to entertain you, the game will be boring. If I entertain you by leaps and bounds but fail to educate you, then you will not want to focus on what the educational points actually were. Balance is the key, blog readers!

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