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Educational games: a novelty in the video game industry? Academically-themed games aimed at younger kids are nothing new and are not a "megatrend". However, pedagogic multimedia products targeted at high school and college students, or even adults, will no doubt be part of a future development path for our industry. Why?
Many teachers will confirm the increasing difficulties involved in grabbing the attention of today's youth. Under constant bombardment by a torrent of stimuli, their attention span has shrunk to the point where concentrating on any one subject for any significant length of time can be a Herculean task -- particularly when a subject is daunting!
Some have had the idea to use video gaming as an academic complement. This type of media has the advantage of being at the heart of teenage leisure, and its nature is well-adapted to the best of mankind's teaching mechanisms: experimentation. Many businesses have started down this challenging road, such as the American firm pullUin.
What forms will these games take? Some academic subjects can often be easily translated into games. Let us consider a few examples:
Economic sciences. Their mechanisms are well-adapted to this exercise, since they apply to a concrete universe which we all know. Management games can be used to support or illustrate theories of international trade, interactions between supply and demand, or the disruption of competition caused by a monopoly.
Mathematics and physics. Despite their highly abstract natures, these sciences have in fact been invented to solve truly concrete problems, such as the building of aqueducts by the Romans. We can imagine interactive illustrations: the launching of a rocket into orbit, or a game with a catapult to illustrate vectors.
Biology. The mechanical characteristic of the inner workings of a cell, and therefore of any living organism, can be emulated by construction games such as the famous The Incredible Machine.
Sierra's The Incredible Machine
Though the ultimate purpose of these interactive products is not gaming for its own sake, game design rules should still be applied with the same care exercised in designing a more traditional video game. Here are a few such rules to keep in mind:
However, such applications will also need to include specific features unique to their academic function:
Ambitious and complex to develop, these game-based academic tools will also need to find their target market -- from teachers to parents itching to help their children -- and, consequently, suitable distribution channels.
The rapid development of distance learning in the United States -- and therefore soon in Europe -- may yet create the perfect environment for these products. The Nintendo DS has also shown its potential as a platform for teaching applications.
The gaming approach to these academic applications may yet become a powerful commercial argument for newcomers on the education market -- one of the flagship markets of our civilization of knowledge.
I shall address only one Megatrend: multiplayer gaming and its far-reaching impact on our industry.