You can’t make “Educational” PlayStation games!
We were recently invited to take our latest PlayStation VR game, “The Chantry” to the EU’s annual “Digital Assembly” event in Sofia (Bulgaria).
It was an impressive setting to be showing off our game and provided a quite surreal moment in which Bulgarian schoolchildren in traditional dress were stood a gasp as they were transported into an English country mansion in 1823. However, the thing that stuck with me most about the event was a “robust” conversation with a senior EU official about the combination of “PlayStation” and “Education”. He proudly declared that he was a lifelong PlayStation fan, but made it very clear that he didn’t appreciate us trying to hijack his favourite pastime for educational purposes. It wasn’t the kind of conversation that I expected to have at that event, but it illustrates a very real barrier to the uptake of game-based learning.
I realise that for many gamers, the idea of making an educational PlayStation game is a form of sacrilege. It challenges their sense of ownership over a much-loved pursuit, and fills them with a weary scepticism as they recall all the terrible edutainment they’ve suffered over the years.
Yet there really is no good reason why it should. After all, games are only fun while we are learning something new. Once a games’ challenge has gone, we quickly move onto something different (read Raph Koster’s “A Theory of Fun“, if you need convincing). It’s just that, in the context of games, we’re more comfortable learning increasingly sophisticated ways to defeat hordes of zombies, or pilot a spacecraft than something we consider to be “educational”.
But what does it mean to be “educational” anyway? We tend to think of it as encompassing anything we might learn as part of a school curriculum, but that’s pretty arbitrary when you think about it. Does that mean that pre-Roman history isn’t educational, because it doesn’t tend to be studied at school? Does it mean that games about World War II are educational because it does? No of course not.
The thing that makes edutainment so unpalatable is not the”educational” content per say, but the way that the educational content is superficially tacked on to gameplay, often characterised as “chocolate-covered broccoli”. Personally, I believe passionately that given the right pairing of learning content and gameplay, things we might think of as “educational” can be a natural part of what makes a game fun to play—even on PlayStation!
Anyway, if you’re interested in finding out more then I wrote a PhD thesis about it a decade ago. In the meantime, and with our launch of “The Chantry” imminent, I would implore gamers to remain open minded about the potential of educational games to be fun :-)
13 Jul 2018 / Jake / 0