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Education and Games

Why hasn't gaming followed its other media brethren into the educational scene? Movies, books, radio, and music can and have all been used for both recreational and educational purposes. Yet, when it comes to games, only recently have some big developers and publishers been involved a form of teaching. Brought to the masses mainly by the Wii, educational games were backed by the publishing giant Nintendo and given to the family, with motion controls as the exciting new feature that would hopefully draw them in. Microsoft and Sony are biting into the casual market with a ferocious apatite, and with this foray into casual gaming, consumers are starting to become introduced to more educational games that involve light puzzles and IQ tests. Most of it is gimmicky, and there are only light connections to actually learning.

True, educational games have been around for a while, but I'm talking about more main-stream developers going for educational games. Movies have big names in the documentary field like Moore and documentaries like Super Size Me. And educational books by big-name authors have been around for hundreds of years (remember those incredibly large textbooks?). But when it comes to gaming, only obscure studios have made educational games that stay mostly on the PC as a small program you'll show your kid in the 5th grade.

But I thought it would be interesting if developers like Bethesda, Bungie, or Valve got into the educational scene. No, I'm not saying that Bungie should release a new game titled "Teach ABCs - 1st Grade," but that it would be neat if a studio like Bungie, with its drive, resources, and talent, would make a game that taught something to the gamer. It's already happened to a minor degree: Portal 2, a recent hit, doesn't involve chainsaws, excessive gore, and a family-friendly word-filter on the side; it challenges the gamer's puzzle skills while it's still dressed up with an exquisite story, cast of characters, and a good (while a bit aged) graphics engine. Heck, the game's even making rounds at various universities. Fallout 3 is another example. The game included quizzes on American history, and if the player got the quiz correct, they got something that would help them survive in the wasteland that was created for them by Bethesda. The Assassin's Creed series has many architecturally-realistic facets of its games' cities, and many of the people in the games actually did exist, so a game like it in the future could be tailored in an educational matter and teach players about the Renaissance period. An older example, Oregon Trail, was so popular in schools when I was younger that by the time we graduated from grade school most of my classmates had soaked in hours, if not days, playing it and knew of many of the hardships that pioneers to the West encountered along their journey. More recently, Crytek released Crysis 2's engine to over 250 colleges and universities that would in turn use that technology to power tools for physics, math, architecture and other forms of computerized learning programs.

So, can games become educational? I would think so. A medium that teaches by actively doing has great potential. In the future, maybe an economics teacher could use an RTS game to teach about the economy of a city, much in the same manner as Sim City. If you mess up, maybe the teacher would be the one to send a tornado through your 3 airports that were next to 5 nuclear reactors. Or maybe a future American/World History class could have students play through a game that takes them through important and catastrophic wars while teaching them how a Civil War era rifle was built, why the war was waged, when did the first battle actually begin?

As with any lecture we've been through in college or high school, a teacher needs to be interesting, speak with feeling, and the students need to be interested in the topic at hand, for the lecture to be good at all. Same goes for today's games: developers need to care about their game for it to reach the high bars us consumers have set, and gamers need to be interested enough in the game to buy it. In the future, it's possible these two mediums will mesh much in the same way as movies have.

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