What is edutainment?
A mash-up of the words education and entertainment, an edutainment game today is game-based learning that aims to fulfill a dual purpose — learning and fun. These educational video games use game mechanics, design, and techniques to achieve both objectives.
A game example, Seek Your Own Proof, was created in partnership with TIQ Software and Discovery Communications. This browser-based game was designed to allow children to experience museums and history in an interactive and engaging way.
Do they have to be educational video games?
No. These games aren’t always educational video games, but they should always have a goal of teaching something.
There are many commercially popular games and indie games that could fall into the realm of edutainment.
Edutainment can also be found in television, movies, radio, and even literature, but more on that further down.
Solar Energy Defenders
This is a browser-based tower defense game in the same strain as Plants versus Zombies. Solar Energy Defenders is a game that pits vampires against students harnessing the sun’s power. This game-based learning teaches users about the different aspects of solar energy collection. Users must master sun angle, tilt, shadows, and even the time of year to maximize their collection and dust vampires to save the school dance.
This game has been around for years, and its growth as an edutainment game has developed worldwide. The Minecraft Education Edition is playable on both computers and tablets.
Developed for PC and popular gaming consoles, Rocksmith stopped producing new DLC (downloadable content) in late 2020, but the game still helps fledgling and professional guitarists, learn, practice, and develop new skills.
Why are games better than other edutainment media?
User interactivity and feedback are the reasons. Books, movies, radio, and television are all forms of non-interactive entertainment and while there has been some expansion into more interactive versions of these mediums, few feedback, which is critical to the learning process.
Someone could read an interactive book or watch a documentary on television, but there is no guarantee that the person kept information by doing it. Feedback from a game can be immediate, the game can tell the user if what they did was right or wrong and can offer varying levels of help.
Feedback and interactivity combined with other techniques engages the user and inspires them to push onwards. This engagement makes a student want to learn and ultimately allows games to claim and hold the crown the edutainment crown.
Types of edutainment games
Edutainment games can exist for every video game genre and sub-genre, from action and strategy, to massively multiplayer and side-scrolling, plus everything in-between and beyond. So, video game genre and style are not an effective way to categorize them. Instead of dividing them into groups based on how the game engages users in relation to learning is the way to go.
Users don’t normally purchase these games for their ability to teach or educate. Instead, users often play these games for sheer enjoyment. Any learning is most likely incidental and even potentially unknown to the user.
Users often purchase these games because they want to learn something. They’re still fun, as all edutainment games focus on both education and entertainment, but the user knows they’re learning. The desire to learn combined with the game’s design intent to teach is often a good sign that this is an active edutainment game.
Learn the 7 core elements critical for edutainment game success
All edutainment games require these 7 elements to be successful, but depending on the project you may need to increase or decrease each one to develop the right mix. Think of it as a mixing board and each element is a level you set to create the perfect experience for your audience.
Edutainment games straddle two opposing worlds — enjoyment and education. How focused the game is on learning a new skill or subject determines if you set the slider higher or lower.
Unlike serious games an edutainment game doesn’t need a simulation slider, but it needs a fun slider. Remember, a fun experience is just as important or more so in an edutainment game when compared to learning.
The higher this slider, the more enjoyable and therefore engaging your game will be. A high fun slider often means that learning is absorbed through passive engagement rather than active.
One of the more engaging elements of any game is a good story the user can identify with. Story is often even more defined in edutainment than other forms of gamification.
A high-story setting most likely includes characters and a fully developed world, while a low-story setting may just include a theme that carries throughout the edutainment game.
4. Game mechanics
The number of systems, their sophistication, and difficulty determines your games mechanics’ slider level. At the low-end points and badges motivate the user through the learning content, but at the high-end full avatar customization and systems like movement, conflict resolution (combat), turn order, and leaderboards could all come into play.
It’s also important to consider the collaboration and competition levels you want to have between different players when deciding what game mechanics to include.
Most feedback should be immediate. When users interact with the game, they need to understand their actions. They need to know if what they just did was right or wrong.
How detailed and personalized the feedback is determined this slider’s level. High levels often include built-in analytic dashboards where users, employers, or educators, can view metrics to identify skill and knowledge gaps.
A user should be able to replay an edutainment game over again for practice, further skill development, and fun. How much they can replay, whether the game changes or scales when they replay it, and how long they have access to the replayable content sets the level here.
A high set slider would ensure users could replay the content as much as they like without expiry and they receive new feedback given on each playthrough. A high slider would often also include automatically generated content, comparable to random map generation of the adventure game and rogue-like game genres, that could further challenge the user for increased skill development.
The skill or subject may not be simple, but how to play the game probably should be. A low slider here would mean the game is complex and probably requires a tutorial or even a rulebook. A high slider means a user could jump right in and start playing.
Do edutainment games work?
With the 7 core elements, yes, edutainment games can be a powerful force of learning and enjoyment. In truth, edutainment games have become the link between the digital world and “learning through play.”
The downside to edutainment is it doesn’t work for every subject. Often a serious or more hands-on approach is required for learning. But with the right audience and subject, edutainment can increase engagement and knowledge retention to levels well beyond the standard classroom or boardroom. Even an unenthused user could learn an unenjoyable subject a little better and less painful fashion by using edutainment over ‘old-school’ methods of instruction.
Overall, edutainment games like other game-based learning methods work to create engagement and allow the user to learn and progress at their own pace with immediate feedback assisting the process.