Edutainment failed me



I never subjected my kids to things like this - they got to play Pajama Sam and Spy Fox, which were marvelously entertaining kid’s story games with a bit of thinking required to win.

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Might I suggest Typing of the Dead, and it’s more modern sequel: Typing of the Dead: OVERKILL


[quote=“boingboing, post:1, topic:56781”]Blizzard’s early platform-puzzler Lost Vikings also tasks you with discovering creative solutions to problems in response to failure To me, this sort of game is educational in a way that Learning Company games never could be. Games like these taught me how to think.[/quote]They made it available as a legitimately-free download not so long ago, FYI. (Coincidentally, the vikings themselves have turned up in Heroes of the Storm.)

While things like that are fun and require creative thinking, I’d question whether they have any more true educational value than the likes of Brain Age (i.e. not much at all, according to the conclusion of scientific studies).

Back in my day, we had good old-fashioned cleverly-constructed workbooks printed in black ink on lousy paper, and they were the greatest thing ever, and I suppose I would mourn their absence if I found myself needing to assemble educational materials for a child today.

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Rocky’s Boots was the realness.

Think Quick, Gertrude’s Secrets - loved those Learning Company titles.

I don’t know, Number Munchers was my go to game during lab time.

I think my issue wasn’t so much games, as it was education in general. I was interested in science stuff, electricity, chemistry, physics…and when you are in elementary and middle school there is only so far any teacher is going to take you. My parents tried their best, but it’s hard to grasp the concepts in a 200-in-1 electronics kit when you only know the very basics.

If there is anything I do for my child’s (or children) education it’s going to be to learn the most I can about what they are interested in. Or at least find someone who can teach them what I can’t.


Lemmings is certainly a fine game, but I wouldn’t discredit the potential of learning a more traditional curriculum through games.

The trick is to find “games” with some actual education practice behind the design. For early readers, is pretty fantastic. The games are low-fi and feel primative, but the song and story hooks are enough to keep young kids glued, and it level-grinds them right through the phonics in a way that would feel familiar to a World of Warcraft player.

Seems to work. Or at least, taught my kid (now five, starting at three) to read and do addition, subtraction, and comparisons more or less independent of our guidance. She enjoys it, and would do more if we didn’t throttle her screen time.

Notable: Starfall was primarily funded by a philanthropy, not sales, and enployed an incremental approach to feature development that most game/app studios don’t use.

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Lemmings (in many flavors) is available on the Internet Archive as are Oregon Trail, a number of Carmen Sandiego games and other educational (and non-educational) older games.

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The people I know who have kids do not seem entirely interested in obtaining any of the good ‘educational’ games, and instead appear to obtain an older computer (or requisition their own) and then let the kids download practically any shit game they can find. Which usually reduces the computer to an ad-and-spy-ware distribution system for the local network. It’s entirely possible I just haven’t heard the discussions centered around edu-games, but most everything I’ve seen is crapware lightly folded into a splash screen with pretty colors and moving sprites.

EDIT: Lemmings was awesome.

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Edutainment failed me.

Youth culture killed my dog.


A common viewpoint prevalent among anti-gamers is the “deficit model of acquisition”. In the context of language learning, it specifically describes the fear that too much effort placed on learning a second language can negatively impact the first language, or more generally parsed: if you are learning A, then you aren’t learning B.

This view on games is what I think led to the rise of edutainment games as we know them: well-meaning parents and educators saw children spending lots of time on games, when they could be learning real stuff, like reading. Sadly, they never bothered to analyze the games for skills that kids were actually picking up (aside from a cursory acknowledgement that they might be getting better at hand-eye coordination).

The truth is that for many children, Pokémon is as much of an incentive to read as the best children’s literature. The heuristics that kids develop when solving puzzles in a game are no different than formal logic encountered later in their life.

I think the ugliest aspect of the deficit model, however, is that it completely undermines the legitimacy of games as cultural artifacts, and kids are pretty sensitive to when adults dismiss the things that interest them.

Anyway, I still like Carmen Sandiego just because it came with an almanac. In a pre-Wikipedia world, that book was awesome.


I knew my training in Dvorak would come in handy one day. Great to see that Sega continued the franchise from its Saturn days.

I never copped it, but I thought the single, Love Is Gonna Get Ya, was great!


I continue to maintain that that along with Caesar (Conquest of Gaul), Drucker, Yourdon et al. Microsoft and Ensemble Studios contributed a great deal to the teaching of Management and Economics late last century.

Age of Empires II taught the value of investment, compound interest, resource levelling, MIS reporting and workforce optimisation.

I would also add that a lot of efffort and thought was put into games for kids 5 and under when Windows 95 was around, more than we saw for OS/2 or 3.1 and more than a lot we have seen since. I specifically kept a socket-7 machine running for my kids just for these titles.


I “played” Encarta 2003 the exact same way I “play” Wikipedia now. Look down a list of topics in any field that I think might be interesting, and read in-depth the articles with the most interesting titles, then follow the links all over the place.

I managed to get bored of Encarta, since it’s so limited and small. I haven’t gotten bored of Wikipedia though.

Oh, and Mind-Maze? Gave it a try, decided it was super boring back then. History didn’t interest me nearly as much (or really at all) as science and math, so I never had a chance at getting anywhere in Mind-Maze.


Hell yes. Got bored with it in a similar manner, but I recall one of my favorite bits was when the thing could begin to update itself from the internet. I was using the application Oil Change to update my apps from the internet around the same time and both processes felt as though they were burgeoning with possibilities.

Of course, Encarta’s aggregation of information heralded some good things, and some bad (from Wikipedia):

In the late 1990s, Microsoft bought Collier’s Encyclopedia and New Merit Scholar’s Encyclopedia from Macmillan and incorporated them into Encarta. Thus the current Microsoft Encarta can be considered the successor of the Funk and Wagnalls, Collier, and New Merit Scholar encyclopedias. None of these formerly successful encyclopedias remained in print for long after being merged into Encarta.

Weirdly enough, The Learning Company was one of my favorite devs as a kid. My mom had a standing rule that she’d pay 50% on any educational game title. so I ended up having a number of them in my collection, and when deciding what educational stuff to get, the games from TLC were, at the time, no-brainers.

In retrospect, I can see how the games adhere to the “chocolate covered broccoli” design ethos - inserting incongruous educational content haphazardly into the game’s flow. But at the time, I found TLC’s games had much better gameplay in their ‘game’ parts than other edutainment titles - Operation Neptune and Challenge of the Ancient Empires were legit fun to me as a kid. And since I was a weirdo who liked word problems, the educational parts didn’t feel especially jarring.

Also, the “Children’s Writing & Publishing Center” from TLC was instrumental in my childhood self feeling empowered as a creator of media rather than just a passive consumer of it. I remember during my summer vacations in elementary school creating a weekly newspaper that I’d print multiple copies of (on our loud, slow, dot-matrix printer with perforated feeder paper) and deliver to all the neighbors’ houses. Eventually, I figured out how to, with careful alignment of the printer, incorporate printouts from other programs - making a science page using a printout from “Designasaurus II” under a header image printed out in the “Writing & Publishing Center,” or making a “free game” section by printscreening some GW-BASIC program under a header printer from the Writing & Publishing Center.

I guess what I’m saying is, yeah, those programs had a flawed design ethos, but they weren’t all bad.


I like to bash Microsoft as much as anyone, but it was clear printed encyclopedias were dead as soon as the first CD-ROM versions were available (and generally available for under $100, not the hundreds of dollars a printed set of encyclopedias cost), let alone the later development of Wikipedia. If anything, Encarta kept Funk and Wagnalls and the rest relevant for a few more years.

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I was, and still am, a voracious encyclopedia reader. That’s why I get annoyed here on the BBS when someone posts a link to, uh, TVTropes. If I go there to read just one page, I’ll get sucked in for hours, unable to escape the exploration of their web of inter-linked articles. There are no dry lake beds, every single scene in every media is a cliché. Every strategy of a villain is cataloged, and every villain makes only expected and precedented moves.

Anyway, my original point is: I read both the CD-ROM/Computerized Encyclopedias (Encarta, The Britannica Online CD-ROM [which was an index with web-links], Pearson’s and Wiley CD-ROMs), and the “Analog Books” (The Print Edition of the World Book Encyclopedia 1998.)

Anyway, Wikipedia is my main source for fact checking, along with snopes, and a sense of skepticism and a few other data sources I trust-but-test. And Khan Academy is too slow and doesn’t link out enough for me to trust it…

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I agree with the article but think that it misses a couple of key points. Most edutainment programs focused primarily on repetition and rote memorization, which isn’t really learning.

A lot of non-edutainment games, on the other hand, were about really interesting topics and served as appetizers to encourage us to learn more elsewhere about the topics in order to do better in the games (or just because they were interesting.)

M1 Tank Platoon came with a manual that IIRC was over 500 pages - it was mostly an Army training manual that went into great detail about tactics and technology of commanding and employing a platoon or company sized force of personnel.

Games like Capitalism Plus and Wall $treet Raider led us to learn about the advantages of vertically-integrated companies and why companies do mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures, and make use of leverage, how high-level financial and business decisions are made, etc. Led to reading several books and learning some fascinating stuff about market manipulation, monopolies, and economics.

Games like Civilization are filled with mentions of interesting bits of history that encourage you to learn more. Leads to books about the rise and fall of empires, the colonial era, mercantilism, reasons why nations historically evolved the way they did, etc.

With games like 688I and Silent Hunter, you learn a lot of geometry and trigonometry to plot navigation and calculate intercept courses. Some amount of algebra and heuristics are likely to work their way in.

Most wargames give you history and geography at the least. Want to do better at them? You read about what really happened, how the historic commanders made use of the terrain and their forces, what led up to (caused) the situation and what they were trying to achieve, etc.

And of course, if you’ve been playing computer games and had some game ideas of your own…you decide to try to make your own so you learn computer programming.

Complaining about kids playing games could cause them to miss out on a lot of advanced learning. Forcing them to do boring rote memorization disguised as games could cause them to not develop an interest in games, and thus have the same negative effect.