Thursday, December 28, 2006

Educational Games Suck

Scrabblette is in India and has been sending back games that she's been buying over there. What a nice girlfriend! Amongst them is an educational game called Howzat (which is not listed on the 'geek until my entry is approved). It's apparently a fast moving arithmetic game - like Scrabble with equations. It looks really dull... but the kid has such unfathomable taste in games I'll try it with him and see what happens. My guess is it will be as successful as feeding my dog lettuce - she doesn't recognise it as food, and he won't recognise it as a game.

OK, there is definitely a genre of sucky educational games that are no fun at all. What really intrigued me though was another game Scrabblette sent back called "Math Bogglers", which is really a packaging of Nine Men's Morris and Crossing the River into one set. I don't know what Crossing the River is, but Nine Men's Morris is a proper abstract game. Why does it need to be marketed as "Math Bogglers"? It's not about maths as normal people recognise it. It won't help your kid learn to play Howzat.

My theory on this is that parents buy their kids educational games because they think education is more important than having fun. This occasionally results in decent games being packaged as sucky ones. That's stupid but it makes sense if you understand the motivations of the parents.

Of course readers of this blog will know that games teach you maths whether they're designed to or not. Almost all of the games I like encourage players to be forever running the numbers in their heads - if I can get one more denier I can move another 3 spaces and I can get the majority in indigo because he's only got 2 actions and can only get another 4 and then I'll get the 10VP chip and with the 25% bonus I'll have 53 and last time the winning score was 39 and that was with 4 players and scores should be 33% higher with only 3 players. If you subject a kid to enough of these games and they understand the systems and are motivated to win, they'll start doing maths and enjoying it, and games don't need to suck at all.

Having said that of course, I was very proud of the kid when he won his first game of Bluff. I asked him if he had any trouble dividing the number of dice in the game by 3. He had no idea why you'd even do that.

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