Who Would Have Thunk It?

I read an interesting article on Slashdot today: Academic Games Are No Fun.

Apparently, well into a $250K MacArthur grant, the IU Telecommunications Department-based creators of the MMO “serious game” Arden, The World of Shakespeare, have learned that (1) a game needs to be a game, and (2) games need to be fun.

I can’t wait to see what they learn next! 😉


  1. houssian

    Academic games generally suck.
    It’s a sad but true fact of life. It is my predisposition that a game, no matter how serious the learning involved, must be at least be engaging. If no one will play them long enough to learn anything there is no point in making the game.
    Games need to be entertaining. If it is not, then there is no point in making a game.
    The only time this does not need to be true is when the use context changes to work, when we are required to play, but even then… come ppl make them as engaging as they can be.
    Now if that person hates their work, well that’s not the designer’s problem right?

  2. thismarty

    Every educational game project I’ve ever been involved with ended up having to make a choice between being primarily about the game or primarily about the educational goals. It’s difficult to impossible to achieve both ends equally well, since they are such fundamentally different things.

    As for this project in particular, I think they may have had another problem. Game design elements and principles are pretty long-established (e.g. goals, constraints, challenges, fun, etc.), even in the relatively new space of computer gaming and I’m sure that the folks working on this project were aware of them. But an awareness of design principles is only part of the picture, you have to actually know how to use them too. What happened with Arden 1.0 may be an example of what can happen when you first make the leap from theorizing about making games to actually making them.

  3. laurabrunetti

    Is Oregon Trail considered an academic/educational game? I’m pretty sure it’s intended to be, and I do remember playing it a lot in school. And boy that’s a fun one. It’s not every day that you can opt to float a wagon down the river, hunt, and lose two family members to typhoid fever and dysentary all in one day.

  4. thismarty

    Oregon Trail is a classic.

    It’s also got a lot of casebook examples of how game experience and educational experience don’t always mesh so well.

    For instance, young players of OT would commonly do things in the game that were counter-productive to the learning objectives (e.g. purposely getting killed or lost) because the animations for those events were actually pretty cool. Whereas, the animations for doing things “right” were generally less-entertaining (e.g. watching your wagon trail continue to move across the plain).

    Balancing the game-player user’s needs to be engaged with the learner user’s need to be entertained is one tough nut in use cases where both become one.

  5. datrushurtz

    As a kid, I remember playing Math Munchers a lot, I think that game was a good example of a design that balanced educational value while still being engaging for the kids.

    Sure, it still had the occasional problem cited above, you could have yourself killed by the monster just for laughs, but due to the desire to make the “math munchers hall of fame”, you generally would want to take the game seriously.

    It seems then that educational games need to ensure that the coolest animations are shown for positive performance, while if you kill yourself, or heaven for bid, eat the wrong number, you are punished. I know I wouldn’t be deliberately eating the wrong numbers if I knew the screen was going to yell at me.

  6. thismarty

    Yeah, a math quiz or drill game is going to be much easier to pull off since quizzes and drills are actual game genres.

  7. jeffreybardzell


    For instance, young players of OT would commonly do things in the game that were counter-productive to the learning objectives (e.g. purposely getting killed or lost) because the animations for those events were actually pretty cool.

    I agree with you overall, but I think exploration and deliberately getting killed could be a legitimate educational objective of OT, as long as at some point you still tried to complete it on its own terms.

    BTW: Can anyone find a working copy of OT online? I would love to see that one again….


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