Games for school, and for life

A panel at last week’s ExPlay Festival in Bath analyzed educational videogames and their potential. Each speaker brought a new perspective to the discussion:

Force Of Habit founder Nick Dymond talked about working with a professor of microbiology on Tempest-style game Dysbiosis, which teaches players about the processes of the human gut. The professor’s speciality? Diarrhoea.

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“I think games have a wider role [in society] by nature – as a seven or eight year-old child playing Civilization or Railway Tycoon, I gained an understanding of the Aztecs and old steam engines before I’d been taught any of that at school. And I think that most games offer information like that.”

The Wellcome Trust’s Danny Birchall followed, discussing Axon, a game created to support an exhibition about brains.

Phil Stuart, creative director at Preloaded, was the final panel member. After a short video of The End, a Channel 4 Education-commissioned game designed to help non-religious kids and teenagers cope with the notion of death, Stuart revealed the surprising numbers of those who engaged with the game: four and half million players to date, with an average play time of two hours.

While the thought of ‘edutainment’ may not inspire excitement in most gamer’s minds, Stuart echoed the other panel members by assuring the audience, backed up by his figures, that it is possible to align education with real games, and that they needn’t be inferior experiences. Indeed, The End looks like a robust platformer, using a clever light and shadow mechanic to create environmental puzzles, but also adding in questions about philosopy – the player answers simply by entering the yes or no doors.

It’s interesting that death is part of the curriculum. Art can elucidate the human condition, and perhaps that ability can be used to teach more traditional subjects.