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Subject: What do you look for in an educational game? rss

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Mickey McDonald
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Hi everyone,

I thought I'd post here and try to glean some collective wisdom in what people look for in games marketed as educational. I'm actually currently making a solar system exploration game called "Brave New Worlds" (kickstarter in early April!), which is designed to teach and inspire players about the 70+ worlds we've visited with spacecraft in our own Solar System, so I have kind of a vested interest in this question

My impression is that for most gamers, the word "educational" can be a turn-off, like you're sacrificing fun in order to learn something. Am I crazy in thinking that? And if you're buying games to play with your kids and are hoping to be able to get them to learn at the same time, what do you look for? Abstract strategy games which hone critical thinking, or themed games which can generate knowledge in something like diseases or the human body (for example)?

In my game, I've basically tried hard to make something that would play well even if wrapped in another theme. But I've also decided to write a companion booklet that pairs with the game, so that while players are waiting for their turn they can read all about the solar system... haha so, I'm kind of trying to hide the fact that my game is educational, and just sneak it in there by way of the art and the companion book. But I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts - when does a game marketed as "educational" get you excited?
 
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Wilbert Kiemeneij
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As a physics teacher with an inquiry-based approach I look for games that can help my students ask relevant and interesting questions. Questions that are deep enough to be the starting point for a whole project.
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Robert Doolan
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I love games that can teach kids and I'm sure adults at the same time. The most recent one we have gotten is periodic. It's great to have a different theme that gets you thinking while playing . It may be just the spark to peak their interest on the topic.
Look forward to seeing it.
 
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lampeter
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For my kids, I look for:

1. General strategic games. No specific educational objective here, but good games build brains.

2. Short, fun, skill-building games, like Numbers League, Bananagrams, Cribbage, Scrambled States of America, and Timeline.

3. Games with thematic flavor that inspire and reinforce our learning from other sources. These don't have to have more than a veneer of theme, but they do have to be solid games in their own right. For instance, Municipium, Samarkand, Extronaut.

4. Games that inspire deep questions or understanding of systems. I don't get into these with my kids yet because they are still young, but they will likely include games like Freedom: The Underground Railroad and Commands and Colors series games.

It sounds like your game would fit in the thematic flavor category, and I haven't seen anything else out there with a realistic space exploration theme for kids. I am not a huge fan of included booklets as a primary means of educational material, since there are plenty of actual books to explore, and they are generally better. Notes on what in the game is drawn from the real world and what is not are nice, but for general facts and points of interest, I like flavor text on cards better because it is more likely to pique interest when it is right in front of you rather than in the game box.
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Laszlo Molnar
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I'd quickly react 'I don't look for anything in an educational game.' I want a game to be fun. I want 'educational' to be a side effect of having fun. If it is not a side effect but the obvious main purpose, that turns us off and destroys the fun. Make it fun, that's it really.
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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lacxox wrote:
I'd quickly react 'I don't look for anything in an educational game.' I want a game to be fun. I want 'educational' to be a side effect of having fun. If it is not a side effect but the obvious main purpose, that turns us off and destroys the fun. Make it fun, that's it really.

I agree. The point of educational games is to make the education fun. One could easily design a game where you roll, move and read something educational about the place where you land but that wouldn't be fun.

I want my educational games not to teach how to do something but how to think. Robot Turtles is an example of a game that encourage kids to think like programmers to move their turtles.

For a space exploration game, I would probably try to put the players in the position of the scientists behind the exploration projects. What do we know about the systems? How do we use this knowledge to reach them? How can we learn from an explored system to explore the next? That would encourage me to seek more and more knowledge but having fun at the same time.
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I haven't looked at the KS page so that I might give the benefit of doubt that you are here to gather info not to plug the game (yes it really happens surprise).

MickeyMcD wrote:
What do you look for in an educational game?
The theme of your game is space exploration. I have a little one who really likes space and whose friends enjoy playing games with us. We have several games that are spaced themed with varying degrees of claims to their educational value. I have found it best to start with a game where the theme actually interests the kids playing, even if just a little. After that the best educational games fully integrate the concepts or facts to be taught into the game, not the ones with a superficial theme or that only have facts pasted on.

Here are some space specific examples
Extremes of incorporating facts into a space game -->
Qurious Space could be flavored "Qurious <anything>", although mostly just a quiz game, the space facts and theme are integral to the gameplay.
Moons has facts about moons printed on the cards with no significant integration in the game. Could be anything. Might even be better off without the added clutter. Definitely would be better if they spent the time writing a better rulebook instead.

Extremes of incorporating theme into a space game -->
Xtronaut is a great game in that engages the idea of building a rocket. The depth of the theme is throughout and, although the education factor is slim, it is still valuable because the theme is so rich it has allowed many questions and discussions about the space flight and our solar system. So I would put this one as a gateway to education, depending on the interest of the child.
Exoplanets an space exploring/terra-forming game with no real educational value other than strategy. Plenty of theme if you want it to be, although I could see it swapped with other themes as well.

MickeyMcD wrote:
My impression is that for most gamers, the word "educational" can be a turn-off, like you're sacrificing fun in order to learn something.
MickeyMcD wrote:
if you're buying games to play with your kids and are hoping to be able to get them to learn at the same time, what do you look for?
I see something marketed as educational as a data point when buying a game. Something to factor into if the game has worth, and that is determined by how well it is included and if has enough depth to make it worth repeated visits. For instance, Sequence Numbers is a fine version of the game but the educational value of basic arithmetic is short lived; whereas Prime Climb has much more educational worth as it includes more math concepts, better gameplay to incorporate them, as well as a a mechanism that helps with learning (in this case the color guides for multiplication/division). Any more, the labels "Educational" or "STEM" are a marketing tool, so researching the actual value is needed before a purchase.

MickeyMcD wrote:
Abstract strategy games which hone critical thinking, or themed games which can generate knowledge in something like diseases or the human body (for example)?
I find that abstract thinking games are in of themselves "educational" in that they help focus thinking processes (at least the processes relevant to the game at hand). They require no theme and looking for theme while playing can take away from the "learning to think through" methods that make the game worthwhile as a teaching tool. Of course there are many games where the theme doesn't get in the way and some really great exceptions where theme adds to the game.

MickeyMcD wrote:
In my game, I've basically tried hard to make something that would play well even if wrapped in another theme. But I've also decided to write a companion booklet that pairs with the game, so that while players are waiting for their turn they can read all about the solar system... haha so, I'm kind of trying to hide the fact that my game is educational
This is largely what I avoid in "educational games". As before, the theme should be the education, otherwise it can be anything and without it why wouldn't we just go read a book about the subject? Learning is great why hide it, and teaching children the love of learning is something that will benefit them the rest of their lives.


TLDR - I want an educational game to be very educational -or- if it isn't actually that educational, just work on making the best game you can and leave the learning to the curiosity of those playing.
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Tomello Visello
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Being "educational" could be a useful byproduct of a good game. Creating a product purposely to be "educational" is not likely to be an attractive game.

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MamaGames
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I'm a homeschooling mom who loves the gameschooling movement - deliberately using games in our kids' education.

Although blatantly "educational" games have their place for us (if we have to learn all the state & capital names, playing Sequence: States & Capitals is a more pleasant way to do that than just using flashcards, for example), we are definitely a gaming family and mostly look to good, engaging gameplay that will get the kids interested about a subject.

We often pair games with library books and documentaries to fill out the knowledge, rather than rely on the game to do all the educating. We have found that most games which are loudly marketed as being "educational" are not strong on interesting mechanics or strategy.

There's plenty of educational value in simply working on logic, strategy, etc. in any good game, too.
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TVis wrote:
Being "educational" could be a useful byproduct of a good game. Creating a product purposely to be "educational" is not likely to be an attractive game.
While often true, I took the premise that "educational" was a requirement for the game in discussion from the title "What do you look for in an educational game?"
 
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A Balley
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For my kids, I look for:

1. General strategic games. No specific educational objective here, but good games build brains.

2. Short, fun, skill-building games, like Numbers League, Bananagrams, Cribbage, Scrambled States of America, and Timeline.

This is where I'm at. I don't look to games as a way to help my children develop knowledge about a specific topic.
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Keith Kansiewicz
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Leaving Earth is an excellent example of gamification of the space race. It deals with the history of interplanetary travel and includes the challenges of getting to various outer space locations. It isn't aimed at kids, but it might be a good reference for what you are working on.
 
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Danger Mouse
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I think you need to make the game fun above everything else. You need to make the student think it is not actually an educational game.

I am a Doctor of Mathematics and have been developing some games that can be played online for free. (Since we cannot self-promote I cannot give a link here, but my first has an entry on Video Game Geek - something to do with a 'Penguin' with a bit of a 'Slide'.)

In that game I wanted to develop forward planning, route calculation and even concepts of gravity. Once I knew what I wanted, the game wrote itself. There were no ladders to begin with at the side, but were added when it became apparent there needed to be risk and reward. Basically, I realised I needed to make this a game, a real game, and try to hide the educational value.

When I realised what educational value I wanted in the game, then the Penguin theme seemed to develop alongside it.

I think I realised I was getting it right when the parents of the children I tested it on were saying they were playing the games not only with their kids (there is a pass and play option), but also against the AI by themselves in their coffee breaks at work.

My next two games should be out soon. They have similar ideas, but with different scoring.

I have already play-tested my next few games with home made paper bits, and they have some really clever ideas in them that seem intuitive in the game. They are easy for students to grasp in the game, but maybe not in a classroom when they are being taught the subject. Those ideas are met in a UK A-Level (17 and 18 year olds), but can easily be topics of discussion for UK GCSE students (14-16 year olds).
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Mickey McDonald
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Thank you so much for this detailed reply! And by the way, there isn't a kickstarter link up yet - I'm still about a month and a half away from that, and my motivation really is to figure out what people want in a game if their goal is to teach / inspire their kids. But I'm relatively new to BGG, and hadn't read the rule regarding no self-promotion on these forums - apologies, in the future I won't post links Regardless, thanks everyone for your responses, it's great to hear different perspectives.
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Danger Mouse
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MickeyMcD wrote:
But I'm relatively new to BGG, and hadn't read the rule regarding no self-promotion on these forums - apologies, in the future I won't post links

I do not think you have done anything wrong so far.

I believe you can post links to Kickstarters in the kickstarter thread. You can create an entry for your game on BGG and I believe if it is a kickstarter you can post your link in that entry. You can put press release statements in the press release thread. So I do not think you have done anything wrong so far.

However, if you are replying to a thread, like I have done above, I have to be careful not to self promote that game. So I had to tread a fine line in explaining how I was trying to get educational values into my games without linking directly to them.
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KB Shimmyo
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MickeyMcD wrote:
But I've also decided to write a companion booklet that pairs with the game, so that while players are waiting for their turn they can read all about the solar system...

I think this approach would not be very good for either the making-education-fun aspect (slightly) or the gameplay (more so). Someone else already mentioned the first, though I think it could be mitigated if it were presented in small factoids about the place they just interacted with - gamified reading, in a way. I feel more strongly about the latter because paying attention to the board state and planning one's next move during "downtime" is also a skill to be developed (and one whose absence can destroy the fun aspect of games).

--------
Making a simulation too faithful detracts from gameplay. I love Bios: Genesis for the attempts it makes to simulate evolution of macroorganisms from prebiotic molecules, but not only is it a pretty heavy game, but the game aspect of it suffers from the simulation-first approach - it has a lot of little rules, and the rulebook is written in a way that's pretty narrowly focused on the topic at hand (without reference to the big picture) - and a lot of important information exists only in the glossary. The overt educational component here is flavor text everywhere (in a way that makes it seem like a more complex game) - my goal is to internalize the rules sufficiently to just have a relaxing game where we can nerd out over the flavor text.

I'd be curious to see the Above and Below choose-your-own-adventure storybook mechanism used for a science/logic-based educational game, to teach the laws of [whatever logical system]. Of course in A&B there's usually the tradeoff of how many of the required lanterns you think you can get from your exploration party... so making the logic-based one a satisfying game would take some work. In any case, replayability could suffer because you'd eventually have developed the logic skills to tackle all those scenarios (expansion time!)

A good example of subtly-educational games: I carry around only a vague notion of the shape of U.S. states, and playing 10 Days in the USA made me pay more careful attention to e.g. those tiny bits of shared border with the next state down and across the river.

Backup option: for most games that don't have a purely fictional setting, there's always the option for players to bring the educational component to the game in their mindset. I enjoy* researching the background of a game's setting, and questioning the fidelity of its depiction of processes, even if the game isn't meant to be primarily educational - e.g. Lisboa's historical setting in the aftermath of the same earthquake that's a plot point in Candide (or all the economic industrialization-era UK games like Brass: Birmingham), or noting the non-realistic rules of pheromone placement in Myrmes. You could make a small research project for each adversary in Spirit Island, to understand why the in-game adversary has the attributes it does and critique how well that reflects the development approaches of the actual historical empire.

*I'm also one of those people who enjoy learning new games by reading 25-page rulebooks twice in the week before playing it.

Specifically about space, I'm curious about SpaceCorp - it seems to have a higher ratio of science to fiction going on, and is supposed to be a good game too.


Caveat: I am not the target market here - I don't have children or interact with them in a professional capacity, just someone wandering in from the link on the front page. I have spent time in a PhD program in theoretical chemistry and encourage science education whenever I can though. Apologies if you were looking primarily for opinions from people with children.

Also I have no idea what age range you've got in mind.
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Scott Kelly
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I agree with just about everything everyone else has already said, but I'll add my thoughts anyway.

I have been thinking and talking about this quite a bit lately, as I, too, have created a game that is targeted for young people to practice their math skills.
I like to tell people that it is a wizard game with math, rather than a math game with wizards. People see the educational label, or see that it is about math and they are immediately less interested. Those who have played it anyway have enjoyed it quite a bit, but they need to get past the "educational game" fear to try it, before becoming really engaged in the experience. I think that stems from so many educational games in the past being made by educators rather than gamers, so they focus so heavily on the educational part that they miss the fun. Essentially they give you points for doing homework. You can ask kids to draw two cards from a deck and multiply them together and you get a point if you get it first, which makes it a game, but it isn't really fun. That's just gamified multiplication.

If you can make using the skills or picking up new information an intrinsic part of the mechanics of the game, rather than the goal then the learning lends itself to the purpose. Again, with my game, you use the math to cast spells, but players are so intent on getting the spell cast and how they're going to reach the target number, they don't feel like the math part is a chore, or math for math's sake.
Timeline doesn't feel like a history lesson because you are thinking, deducing and applying your previous knowledge to place the card. And after you've played it a few times and you've seen some cards go by several times, they stick in your mind and become part of your knowledge base.

And that's how I see it.
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Gregg Saruwatari
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I am a teacher and generally I do not like transparent educational games. I think any skill can be developed in the context of a game-first game. Personally I favor teaching through games that reward foresight and planning but games that increase familiarity and speed of various skills can be cool, too. One classroom favorite is Red7. It is quick and not 100% skill, but you realize real quick that poor planning reduces your available options in the future- just like poor planning in your school years reduces your available options in real life. (although you may end up with a good outcome with poor planning in the game or life- you just have less possibilities )
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Angela Lammers
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Realistically, if the game itself isn't fun then my kids won't want to play it a second time. Also, what I consider educational depends on their age and skill set. Sparkle Kitty isn't considered educational and certainly isn't for my 9-year-old, but my 5-year-old loves learning to read and recognize the words. I like playing anything with point multipliers with my 9-year-old and she's proud to be the official score keeper for games that need it, too. Games with realistic maps are also good, like Ticket to Ride or the 10 Days games. A space version of 10 Days would be pretty sweet, actually. I have a personal interest in games that explore scientific concepts in interesting says and especially nature/wildlife themes, although I have a hard time getting people to play those with me.
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Xiomarat Gomez
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For my children I look for games to develop their analytical and concentration skills, that are fun and also help them increase their ability to solve problems ... A game of this type that I love is the Frozen Puzzle, you can download it at this link https://descargar.games/frozen-puzzle/
 
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