The term ‘educational game’ is a bit of an oxymoron – like a fat thin man riding a big small motorbike. Games that promote learning can sometimes be more boring that actually just learning. Hopefully though, things are changing.
Here’s a great example of what simple flash games can do on the most basic browser. 1066 is made by Preloaded and developed with the help of Channel 4 in line with the show The Battle for Middle Earth that aired in May 2009. 2 million people watched the show and there are rumoured to be 3 and a half million people who have played the game.
What strikes you first is just how well made this is with wonderful voice acting and smooth animation. You play by re-enacting the brutal battles of 1066 as either The English, The Normans or the Vikings. There’s a kind of movie to introduce you to the actual history of the what happened but it quickly cuts to the game. You take charge of one army and move blocks of troops around in turn based action, firing arrows and moving into position before getting stuck into the actual fighting. It’s terribly bloody with a great feel to it, there are also touches of humour – taunting the enemy sees you screaming ‘pig filth’ or ‘fox beard’ at the enemy.
So, is it educational? That’s a difficult question. It’s a really nice game to play, that’s for sure, a bit like a simpler version of Total War. The bloodsplats on the screen, the noise of sword against sword and the stratergy needed adds up to an entertaining experience. But did I learn about 1066 and history? I took Bruce London’s 15 question 1066 history quiz to find out.
Well, I learned that 3 English kings died that year and that the Viking leader was Harald Haadrada and got these questions correct but that was pretty much as far as I got. Wouldn’t I have learned these things had I just read a book or sat in a history class?
The Battle of Hastings and 1066 is a pretty easy educational topic for a game to cover – it’s got fighting in it, and vikings and people shouting at each other, but how would a game for say, explaining healthy eating or quadratic equations work? Would it be as easy to make these into games?
1066 is a great game, but more than that it’s a great start to the way games should be able to capture people’s imagination and engage them with the subject. It would probably be pretty easy to make an engaging healthy eating game, you could follow the fortunes of a football player or an athlete and decide what they eat, or a doctor examining the damage done to different parts of the body from eating the wrong stuff. Quadratics – I’m still thinking.
As the prospect of ‘cloud or streaming gaming’ draws closer, more and more powerful games are going to be avaliable to more and more people, games will play a bigger part in our lives and education. How we use them in the classroom will need to be thought about more clearly, but this is a great start.