[Discuss] Education and Entertainment cannot coexist

Educational games are pure evil, but if is well made people do not feel like learning. Like with @Pharap’s game.

The problem is that most educational games are designed by people who don’t like or get games and they think is a stupid thing so they only do it because they are getting paid.


As a teacher i have to admit that most educational games are boring or just don’t feel like „games“.


I used to think so too… then I got a job making educational games and I found out why they turn out the way they do. People in education who think games are just “a stupid thing,” are a tiny minority. The majority of those involved really do care about the games and their players.

Sorry about the long, off-topic post ahead, but I think some would consider the information interesting.

TL;DR: it’s complicated.

At first, games and education look like a really good fit: All games are inherently educational. FPS games teach spatial awareness, map interpretation, train response time, peripheral vision, precise motor movement, etc. Apparently, when a school decides to make use of the educational power of games, something goes wrong.

Unlike other games, edugames aren’t played. “Play” is voluntary, people choose to play based on what they find fun/challenging (more on this in Raph Koster’s “A Theory of Fun For Game Design”). This might look like it’s not a big deal (Kids like games, right? Why wouldn’t they want to play them?!) but it has consequences, for both student and game designer, that ultimately make educational games not feel like games at all.

When a teacher tells a student “Hey, let’s play this game!”, no matter how enthusiastically he says it, the student partakes in an activity that is imposed. This makes children predisposed to not liking a game, in much the same way that lots of kids don’t like to read books. Reading a good book can be a pleasureful activity for children. Going through the effort of sitting through 100 pages of text instead of watching TV, just because an adult told you to, can actually be painful. This directly influences how much effort a player will put in to it. Paid $60 on a game on Steam? You’re going to try hard to get your money’s worth out of it. Got forced out of bed early because you had to go to school and somebody shoved a tablet into your hands? Meh.

Then there’s the game designer’s side:
All games have a target audience. Generally something broad like “girls from ages 10-14”. The idea being that a percentage of the population within that demographic will find something in that game appealing enough to buy, and a much smaller percentage will play it to the end. But educational games? “This is a game for 7th grade.” This might look more specific, but it is very broad. Since it’s imposed, every kid in that class has to reach the end. Boys, girls, casual, core gamers… and the “technologically-illiterate” who have never used a touchscreen/joystick/keyboard/mouse (the amount of kids like this is surprisingly large) and the ones with learning/movement/eyesight disabilities. Forget about drag-and-drop, simply clicking on something can be really hard for lots of people (kids and adults!).

We got reports of kids literally crying because they had to use a mouse.

Can a good game be made with all those needs in mind? Maybe. Planning, testing, reviewing, rewriting, more testing. All sorts of issues show up in testing (“Need to change the mechanic, kids these days don’t know what a slingshot is.”). It’s a lot of work. For that, the game designer needs time. Now make X games for each chapter of the math book that 7th grade is going to use next year. Are the geography games ready, yet? School curriculums change a bit each year, for many reasons (what, the government wants us to teach music, now?). This means that material often needs to be produced and ready for evaluation in less than a year. It’s a lot of work for a team to design, develop, play-test, and re-adjust all the games for a single book in a year.

Programmers who like multi-threading would quickly propose a solution: this can all be done in parallel!
But then budgets become an issue. Having multiple teams is really expensive.

The result is invariably a series of very simple games that are strictly adhering to a subject, can’t have too many distractions, must be visually simple and easy to interact with, and must be explained to the player with narration that is slow and clear.

Oh, and anything that might resemble violence is strictly forbidden. A character might get hit with a water-balloon? Too violent. “We’ll get complaints from parents. It’ll make the kids violent. Take out the character.”


I was going to refute several of those points, but I’ll keep my response short (well, short for me).

When I was in primary school I played:

  • At least one Berenstain Bears game (really more of an interactive book, but it was designed to teach reading an life lessons)
  • At least one Blinky Bill game (again, focused on reading and with undertones of protecting the environemtn)
  • Super Solvers: Outnumbered (a maths focused game)

And two that don’t really count as games but I’ll include them:
Flowol, the flow-chart software and Pixie, a little robot thing.
(All the kids in my class loved the days we got to play with the Pixie.)

I have no bad memories of any of these. I distinctly remember enjoying them despite knowing they were supposed to be educational. (Granted in hindsight they probably wouldn’t be much fun to an adult, but I enjoyed them at the time, so they served their purpose.)

Even then there are games thatt are fun first but take on an educational aspect.

  • The Professor Layton series is full of puzzles that provide lessons in logic like binary searches, exclusive disjunction (xor), modular arithmetic etc.
  • Kerbal Space Program is hailed for educating people about astrophysics.
  • Minecraft has found its way into the classroom to become an educational tool. Periodic elements and simple logo-like programming. (Not counting the educational edition of the Computercraft mod, which teaches Lua.)

Educational doesn’t have to be boring, it’s all in the execution.

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Oh, I didn’t say that they have to be boring, I just tried to explain as non-anecdotally as possible what some of the hardships are, and that it’s often outside the power of the game developers. It’s not simply a case of being designed by people who don’t like games.

Making one game that covers a single aspect of a subject is also much easier than covering a curriculum, which is often what schools need and results in the educational games infamy.

I hadn’t heard of KSP being used in an educational setting, yet.
KSP and Minecraft are good examples of games teaching something, but as I tried to explain using FPS’s as an example, every game is educational in some way.

These two games were also produced in a way that is atypical, compared to other educational games: Schools didn’t pay for them. Schools would never be able to afford building a game like Minecraft from scratch just to teach programming. The only reason that happened was because they existed as entertainment products first. Then Microsoft and the government happened to Minecraft, which is as atypical as it gets.

That’s just one particular environment though.

If any of us were to make an educational game for the Arduboy, we wouldn’t have to deal with 80% of those problems and the game would be in the hands of the game developers.

That’s precisely why I think it’s something we ought to give a go some day. Being independent developers we are all free from those daft constraints that drain the fun from typical edu-games.

Lo and behold: https://kerbaledu.com/

They didn’t fund them, but schools do have to pay a small fee to use them.

And therein lies part of the problem.
Schools shouldn’t be the ones trying to build/fund the educational games.

It’s better for the games to exist first as a game that’s intentionally partly educational and then evolve it and have it brought into the classroom. (That applies to more than just games.)

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If the community was composed of many parents who wanted to make edugames for their own children, I think this might be a neat idea.

If not, then the community would be putting in an effort to make games that they themselves wouldn’t play. Without pedagogical assistance in the process, schools won’t touch those games either.

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F**k the schools. Minecraft didn’t adapted, schools adapted :stuck_out_tongue:

I would love to see The incredible machine in the Arduboy. Or some building game/simulator and then in a further contest @bateske can give some swag for creating curriculums from actual Arduboy games instead of building borind educational games in the first place.


I beg to differ there.

I’d gladly play a game that’s about learning the periodic table (e.g. identify the element from a picture of its atom), or about learning a foreign language.

I think in this case you guys might be thinking too literal for games that could fit as “education”, at least in this case of being the topic for a game jam. For me at least if education was the topic I can think of a couple of different ways you could interpret that. A game where you sneak out of the school to pay hooky for example. Or a game like E.V.O. where the player follows the life cycle of something, or in evos case an evolutionary path. They might not necessarily be educational but the past two jams themes where single word nouns so education would fit more than educational. Granted I’m biased to more loose interpretations.

As for my own suggestion of a topic, how about wood.
(Log chopping button masher, flappy bird avoid falling trees, squirl platformer. Warioware like follow the woodgrain puzzel)


Minecraft adapted. “Minecraft: Education Edition” isn’t just a sticker on a box. And not only did they have to fork the game, they had to make support material. The whole process is far from trivial.
Schools don’t use whatever has “educational” slapped on.
In this case schools also adapted… but not because they wanted to use Minecraft. They did it because the federal government told them to.

That’s just one particular player, though.
(Tongue-in-cheek. Point taken.)

I only did so because it was suggested as a way of attracting schools to Arduboy, and the idea of putting Arduboys in schools has been around for a while.
Games that are educational and games that schools can use (“edugames”) are two very different things.

I learnt basic geography from street fighter 2 and history and physics from Bill and Ted, edugames generally fail because they try too hard to educate.

I actually also leant a little about DNA from Action Force the animated movie (G.I Joe) :stuck_out_tongue:


I think Oregon Trail is the exception. For I have died many times from dysentery.

I used to play quite a bit of educational games. My dad would buy them for me every once in a while. One of my favorites was a pinball game where components of the table needed to be unlocked by answering trivia questions, once you had enough components it became easier to get the score needed to unlock the next table. Others I enjoyed were sort of adventure games where you had to add substances in fractional measurements and answer arithmetic questions to proceed. I keep thinking at some point in my life I’ll make an educational game.

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I used to play ‘Where in the world is Carmen Sandiago?’ Taught me everything I need to know about geography …


Are we all still friends?

Bump for oregon trail. Someone fix/finish cascade path. Damn, would that be a good special edition? Yes it would. Green and brown? I don’t know.


Might not be able to compete with this:


Yes, most educational games do not feel as a real “game” like…Overwatch, let’s say. But there are educational games that are of decent entertaining, like the “Playgrounds” by Apple (even though it is for Swift, another programming language).

Well, about arduboy… I bet there are people who play games only, so that is more diversified issues.

Maybe too complex for the Arduboy, but I consider Numpty Physics (a puzzle game) to be fun, while subtly teaching about gravity, mass, levers, fulcrums, hinges, etc.

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So, what about this? I feel like I actually learned a ton from playing starcraft and by extension league of legends. There are a few really valuable lessons that to be honest I struggled to wrap my head around IRL.

  • The concept of being as efficient as possible with your resources
  • Building necessary structures as early as possible
  • Don’t spend your resources queuing units when you can spend the resources immediately.
  • And just general larger concept issues of how to analyse performance based on style and timing, and how small decisions early on have an overwhelming effect on the outcome later on.

I also feel like I learned a lot from playing Cities Skylines. Like I understand why some areas of town are undeserved, or have bad traffic planning. I found myself doing dumb things when building the city based on budget constraints and felt myself apologizing to the citizens… and my decisions didn’t even have to go through any committee or deal with any regulations.

So I could probably come up with more examples, but my point is that there are plenty of games that are not constructed with the specific purpose of being educational that can end up serving that purpose.

However, maybe the real question here is that… is the inverse true? Can a game that is created from the beginning to educate… be any fun? Did we have fun playing number munchers as a kid? I think I did for a while. Theoretically Tetris was designed as a mental training program for cosmonauts.

To be honest, I think the real failure in this area is due to money. If a game is being funded as an “educational” title, it’s investors or the production company is going to have a certain expectation and set of management ideas on what exactly the game should be. In business, people do not like to take bets on products that can sorta fill 2 needs… it’s theoretically better to invest in a product that is going to do one thing really well.

So we can think about it in another way, at least in regards to the Arduboy. The Arduboy product, and others like it, only really exist because of individual creators. Do you see, or imagine large companies producing an open source product that you can tinker around with under the hood like this? My argument would be it is this kind of educational learning that is most valuable. The experience of exploring and discovering new things.

The Arduboy gives you a small sandbox to play in, with just enough tools to have fun hopefully without poking your eye out.