“Edugame” seems like a redundant neologism because all videogames are inherently educational, but they are a genre and there is something ineffable that links them together — something about them is just off. I run from Number Munchers like I run from a textbook; games like this are didactic excercises with the thinnest veneer of entertainment.
These types of games may have a place (in a classrom far from my livingroom couch), but the capacity to teach complexities effectively doesn’t seem to fit in this awkward category. Games will reach a higher education potential if instruction and learning are bundled into mechanics in a more palatable way. Quadrilateral Cowboy seems to be tapping into this balance:
“One of the ulterior motives of the game is to get people interested in learning very basic programming fundamentals,” Blendo Games’ Brendon Chung says of his upcoming title Quadrilateral Cowboy. Don’t be scared, though: this isn’t some modern take on Mario Teaches Typing. It’s a cyberpunk adventure where you take on the role of a hacker for hire, with companies utilizing your expertise to break through security systems and sneak into buildings — but in order to do so you’ll need to learn to code.
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It may sound like a daunting premise to those who don’t know how to code, but Chung says that he was surprised by how easily non-programmers were able to pick the game up during a recent showing at the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle. He’s hoping that Quadrilateral Cowboy will help those players become more tech literate. “I think that as the world gets more tech oriented and as people get more tech savvy, having that knowledge kind of gives you a bit of an edge,” says Chung. “I’m pretty excited to see people play it and learn this stuff. The game is fun, but at the same time you’re getting something out of it, and that’s something that I try to strive for.”
There are already games that teach, but what they deliver may not necessarily be a tangiable skill. If games that teach practical skills like QC can convey them via aesthetically satisfying narrative and mechanics, the genre of edugames may become obselete. There will just be games that teach these skills and those that don’t.