By Tanner Higgin, Common Sense Education
When I was in school, game-based learning was a novelty. This was the era of Math Blaster!, Lemonade Stand and Oregon Trail, when game-based learning meant digitized practice problems or clunky, paper-thin simulations. Still, my classmates and I liked these games. For many of us, this was the only exposure we got to video games outside of arcades. Even as consoles increasingly took up residence in living rooms, computer games still felt special--just a bit more advanced and interesting.
But when my family got a computer, something changed. The edutainment we'd play in computer labs were still a nice spark in a typical school day, but the games felt different. What we were playing at school felt out of touch and out of step, not just in style and polish, but also in what they asked the player to do. While Oregon Trail might offer the appearance of a history lesson, it's hard to convince a kid of that when she's going home and designing a metropolis in SimCity, or adding another page to her notebook full of hand-drawn Metroid maps.
Game-based learning, and the developers who identify with it today, have come a long way since then and gotten much closer to closing the gap. And there's still a need to communicate core content through games, a need that the consumer market just doesn't have incentive to fill. Yet at Common Sense Education, when we evaluate games for learning, what we find is that many of the highest scoring 'learning' games aren't aimed at the educational market. They're more at-home, consumer-oriented games. Because these games are free from the constraints of school standards and traditional curriculum, they flourish, featuring rich cross-disciplinary and truly 21st century learning experiences.
Here are just a few favorites that reviewed well on Common Sense Education this year: