The last decade or two has seen the rise of simulated realities and games. The education industry is no exception to this trend. Gaining more and more respect as a new and powerful medium to educate, sims (simulations) have become a standard way of training workers in various industries, education not the least. In this field, researchers and teachers have been attempting to utilize games to better engage students and increase learning. However, In the end, not all games are created equal. Some are far more effective at entertaining and educating.
It is no secret to parents or to teachers that games have engrossed this generation of youngsters, and it is this very fact that makes educational games such a potentially potent tool. If you’ve ever watched a child play the popular math game, Math Blaster-a platform based PC game in which you must complete mathematical tasks -you probably know what I mean. Students can spend hours running around the levels trying to advance, and all the while doing math!
So what qualities make an educational game good? What is it that Math Blaster does so well? What separates it from some of the less effective math games out there? Before we answer the question, let’s look at some common experiences that game players have. All of us who have played video games know that some parts of a game can be much more enjoyable than others. (Personally, I get really sick of running around Zelda’s world in some of Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series!) Well, in an educational game it is important that the education is directly embedded in the ‘fun’ as opposed to the boring parts of the game. It’s the fun parts that will be more memorable to the player.
For instance, consider a fictitious game called “Zombie Math Shooter.” In this poorly designed game, imagine that you run around shooting Zombies-something most kids would probably enjoy doing for hours and hours. Also imagine that, in between zombies, a math question pops up, and you have to answer it to gain points. Well, as you could probably tell-this imaginary game does not does not embed the education into the entertainment of the game! The educational part is merely a nuisance and is divorced from the enjoyable part of the game-not a quality educational experience. In the end, the efficacy of a game comes down to its ability to engage students with the intended educational goals. (1) In other words, is the ‘fun’ of the game based on learning? The answer to the question also answers “Is this a quality educational game?”
There are a few different sources of quality math games. Some are neither entertaining nor educational; some just educational, but let’s look at an example or two of the successful ones. Although Math Blaster is a good one, this game is not available online so you have to purchase it and play it off your PC. Something I recommend for students who want to improve their arithmetic. Of the various sites on the internet, TheMathGames.com is the only one that seems to have the same high quality melding of education and entertainment as Math Blaster. The games at this site are mainly geared towards middle and high school students who are trying to understand the order of operations, the meaning of a fraction, or decimal place value,; in the end what distinguishes this site from others on the internet is the way that the educational goals and the entertainment are indistinguishable.