What Are Educational Games?

Educational Game Definition

Educational games embed learning materials within a game to allow the presentation of learning/information in a fun, interactive way and facilitate learning through doing, rather than just studying. They can either be loosely designed to impart knowledge, facilitate the practicing of a skill, encourage critical thinking or to increase awareness around social issues.

Educational games can be designed specifically around formal education subjects, including age groups and curriculums (e.g. maths games for kids), or around broader subjects and themes. Learning can either be the main focus of an educational game, or they can contain secondary educational elements.

Educational games can take the form of anything from a simple quiz to complex role playing games a virtual worlds.

It could be argued that all game provide some educational value. Just some of the ways regular, just-for-fun games can help with learning and development are familiarising players with geography, maths, logical problem solving, management and developing hand-eye coordination.

Learning With Traditional Board Games

In the real world, traditional physical board games have long had educational elements intrinsically embedded in them, from Monopoly to quiz based board games such as Trivial Pursuit.

Educational Video Games

Since the advent of affordable personal microcomputers in the 1980s simple educational video games have been created. Until the creation of the World Wide Web at the end of the 1990s all educational games were created and delivered as computer specific software, delivered on the same media formats as other computer programs (e.g. cassette tape, floppy disc, CD-ROM). These were often commercial programs tide to school curriculum, or more broad programs that helped subjects such as geography, or quizzes.

History of Educational Games

Educational video games first started to become popular around the 1980’s, often being used on personal computers in schools.

Early game based learning was predominantly text based with only minimal, if any, multimedia content (visuals and sound). Much as with all video games and digital multimedia content, this was largely due to technical constraints associated with the computers of the time.

As computer capabilities developed and time passed, production values for educational games began to move along with regular video games, by incorporating more complex visuals, sound and interaction to enhance the experience.

Since the 1990s educational online games delivered via the web browser have become more prominent. This was largely brought about by the explosion of web based games initiated by Macromedia Flash technology.

Raising Awareness of Social Issues With Educational Games

As well as academic learning, games can be a useful tool to educate the wider public about social and environmental issues. This can be anything from pollution, recycling and global warming to the effects of war, illness, depression and homelessness.

Using Educational Games to Drive Brand Engagement

It’s possible for digital interactive marketing content, including games, to include educational elements to drive engagement around a brand. For instance historic or architecturally significant attractions sometimes use educational content around their history to increase engagement on their website and ultimately drive interest in the attraction itself.

Education/marketing crossover can also occur when a business wants to educate potential customers about the features and benefits of a product. This can take the form of pushing information around the product and the problems it solves or virtual product demonstrations facilitated by educational digital interactive content and games.

Offline and Online Educational Games

By the mid to late 1990s Macromedia Flash began to provide a viable platform for creating complex interactive multimedia content for use in the web browser. This began to allow educational interactive games to be created and deployed online, rather than as offline computer software applications.

More recently HTML5 has become the development platform of choice for online multimedia content, simply because it is compatible with modern mobile devices as well as desktop computers. In fact, the advent of HTML5 and increased use of smartphones and tablets as primary device for casual consumption of online content has brought about the virtual obsolescence of Flash. In fact Flash is due to be wound down and discontinued as a web based deployment platform at the end of 2020.

Devices Used to Play Educational Games

Desktop Computers

The first educational video games were played on personal microcomputers of the time because these were the main devices available for home use and in schools. With the reduced screen time spent on computers now and a plethora of more convenient devices available for consuming digital content on the go, the shift has moved away from using desktop computers for educational games somewhat.

Mobile

Tablets and mobile devices are now seen as integral to education (particularly for younger children). This has opened up a whole avenue for a big part of younger children’s learning development being centred around apps and web based interactive educational materials, predominantly played on tablets.

Interactive Game Kiosks

Educational computer games are being used more and more in physical installations e.g. in museums, in addition to their online presence, to provide an much more engaging way of getting across information.

Who Are Educational Games Suitable For?

Despite what you might think, video games aren’t predominantly the realm of children. The majority of people who play video games for fun are adults and the average gamer is in their 30’s. This means educational games can have broad appeal and be suitable for more serious, business related applications for adults, as well as educating kids.

Kids

Digital educational games were initially mostly designed for kids, taking in subjects like maths and tied to a particular subject or curriculum. For instance, maths games tend to be a more interactive, visual representation of popular scenario problems you’d get in maths tests, e.g. buying, giving change, etc.

Adults

Traditional core learning subjects, for instance math, geography, history, may be of interest to adults too and educational games can be played by parents with their children.

Crossover With Serious & Business Games & Simulations

When it comes to educational games for adult learners though, these tend to be used more in the business training world.

There is also some crossover between what are seen as educational/business training games and simulations. Simulations vary greatly in complexity and at the top end fall outside of what most people would consider a “game”, although they are really just a more complex version of the same thing. They are extensively used in training for everything from health and medicine to flight training for the military.

Management simulations can help with planning/management and get players thinking about the short-term and long-term effects of their decisions. These can be based in the business world or in other areas.

Development of Educational Games

Educational game development can be done using a variety of tools and programming languages, usually the same that would be used for regular, just for fun video games. Common examples being game engines such as Unity 3D and Javascript/HTML5 game engines and frameworks for web based educational games.

Learning Management Systems

Modern educational games, particularly custom commissioned e-Learning games sometimes integrate with off the shelf Learning Management Systems (LMS). Learning Management Systems are a backend piece of software that help facilitate delivery, administration, tracking and reporting relating to game outcomes and users.