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Worth a Look: Edutainment

Worth a Look: Edutainment

The history of edutainment is actually really interesting because of how many people got involved in it at various points. In our limited discussion a few weeks ago, we mentioned a few of the “highlights” that we could think of, but there’s so much more to see when you look into it. Perhaps what Jimmy Maher’s article points out the most to me was that I had actually played a great many of these games. My father was an early adopter of computers and computer games; it should come to no surprise that he would later earn his graduate degree in Educational Technology.

Maher does an excellent job of describing the history in a way that felt very personal to me, having lived through the era. As a young person growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, I distinctly remember regularly going to the “computer lab” on campus to use educational software. Of course, most of the software we were allowed to use was of the uninspired educational variety. Stuff like the original Math Blaster or Reader Rabbit focused more on the educational component, essentially replacing the classroom facilitator with a soulless computer. But, as it ends up, I got lucky because of a chance to experience some of the more engaging educational titles that my father would regularly bring home, games from the likes of Spinnaker Software, which felt more like entertainment and less like a relatively boring math lesson.

One thing that stands out in Maher’s summation of edutainment software is that two of the most notable, recognizable, and arguably beloved edutainment titles, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and Oregon Trail, are not regarded as particularly educational by most education professionals. That’s sort of amazing and probably says something about the field of edutainment: the most memorable, most popular edutainment titles are not actually good edutainment.

I suppose this would almost qualify as a “News Blast,” but it fit really well into the discussion of entertainment products that are educational. Dan and I did not really speak much to tabletop games as being educational, but it’s actually not uncommon at all. What is most interesting about this is that this board game is being utilized to both educate children about the menstrual cycle and also to make them more comfortable talking about it.

Look at all the fun being had there. Fun. Period.
Look at all the fun being had there while kids learn about physiological processes. Fun. Period.

I don’t intend to dwell too long on this article or the game presented in it. But as an avid tabletop gamer, I can appreciate implementing board games for educational purposes. It’s not often that I play a tabletop game and learn important elements of biology, physiology, or anatomy. If anything, my experience has been that tabletop games punch their hardest in the educational category in matters of history. One of the more popular board games around, a Cold War simulator known as Twilight Struggle, features a rulebook that describes the historical events featured on every card of the game.  The fact that I learned practically everything I know about Operation Paperclip and the Cambridge Five from this board game says something about the educational elements of tabletop gaming.