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Analysis of "The Top 10 Most Influential Educational Games"

Page history last edited by dereklomas@... 10 years ago

This analysis utilizes the list found on the post "The Top 10 Most Influential Educational Games"The original article can be found here

 

In this analysis, we look at some of the most influential educational video games.  The original version of these games were mostly published before 1990, though, due to their success, many of the games received multiple iterations, and some still serve as franchises today (Math Blaster, Mavis Beacon). 

 

In our analysis, we ignored the "retro" aspect of the videogames, the feeling of familiarity while playing a video game from your past, and focused on the essential aspects which made the game entertaining and motivated us to continue playing. 

 

You can find playthroughs of all the game at Top 10 Educational Videogames Playthroughs.  We refer to specific timestamps within each of these playthroughs.

 


 1.  Oregon Trail

 

Publisher: MECC 

Platform: PC  

Release Date: 1993

 

Description

“The Oregon Trail is an educational computer game developed by Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger in 1971 and produced by MECC in 1974. The game was inspired by the real-life Oregon Trail and was designed to teach school children about the realities of 19th century pioneer life on the trail. The player assumes the role of a wagon leader guiding his party of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon's Willamette Valley by way of the Oregon Trail via a Conestoga wagon in 1848.” – Wikipedia

  

“Never before had a game based on the concept of education featured such levels of replay value and enjoyable gameplay. And never had they been presented to such an extent that even if the game weren't trying to educate you, you'd still want to play it based solely on its merits as a game. Oregon Trail wasn't the longest, deepest, or most thrilling of educational games, but it helped set a precedent for what an educational game could be. Namely, it was something that managed to both teach and entertain, and it did both extremely well.”  - Alex Navarro for Gamespot

 

Game Walk Through 

Players begin Oregon Trail by naming your party leader and four members of your party.  They then choose one of three professions for your party leader – farmer, carpenter, or banker – each having its own strengths and weaknesses which affect the journey.  Players are then first introduced to the time period and setting of the game.  They are then taken to the General Store to purchase your initial supplies.  Once their supplies are purchased, players then begin their journey in Independence.  Once on the trail, players will experience unique gameplay based on their decisions.  Throughout the game, players will face obstacles such as blizzards and will be forced to weight risks to make decisions which is shown in river crossings. 

 

Game Objectives 

  • Protect party members throughout the journey

  • Manage supplies and funds

  • Make risk-based decisions on how to continue on the Trail

  • Navigate wagon through rafting sequence

  • Reach end of Oregon Trail

  • Gain points based on number of surviving party members and amount of supplies left

 

Educational Objectives 

  • Learn about Oregon Trail through visiting landmarks

  • Experiencing simulated lifestyle on the Trail

  • Gain knowledge of obstacles pioneers faced while traveling on the Trail

     

Motivational Elements      

The main reason for players to replay Oregon Trail is to test different options and choices.  Instead using the conventional method of choosing difficulty levels, the game provides many options from choosing a profession to month that you begin your journey.  Players are motivated to test different scenarios and challenge themselves to complete the Trail using more difficult starting options.  Players can play through different decisions and scenarios, while also facing new events, such as blizzards and robberies, which make each playing experience unique.  Players are also reminded of their past journeys through elements such as tombstones, to indicate where their past journeys have failed, and the Top 10 list based on the number of points you receive at the end of the game. 

 

Educational Outcomes  

Oregon Trail primarily fails in its main educational objective of teaching players about the historical Oregon Trail.  Players can easily play through the game without reading any of the historical context or landmarks.  Players would have the same gameplay experience if the game were set in a fictional time period and setting.  

 

Although the historical elements of the game are not always obvious, Oregon Trail uses its strong entertainment and replay elements to teach players about history as players gain factual knowledge and understanding through experiencing the journey of traveling on the Oregon Trail.  For example, players may remember a particular landmark because one of their party members died at the location.  Through experiencing the virtual Oregon Trail, the game may garner enough interest in players to learn more about the historical Oregon Trail, comparing their journey to the actual experience of settlers on the Oregon Trail.  At the very least, players will change their attitudes towards the historical subject, as the game makes learning about a historical event interactive and interesting.  

 

Beyond the historical elements of the game, players gain conceptual and procedural knowledge though management of their supplies.  Conceptually, through decisions to buy, sell, and trade supplies, players understand how planning can affect later events and decisions.  Procedurally, players apply supply management skills when deciding how to ration food and clothes, which helps in understanding the importance of maximizing resources when faced with limiting situations.  Players experience learning through trial and error, as they improve on past journeys where they’re party has died.  Players also gain a better understanding of risk management as they must weigh options and make decisions in order to pass obstacles, such as rivers, throughout the tame. 

 


2.  Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

 

Publisher: Brøderbund Software

 

Platform: PC  

Release Date: 1985

 

Description

"It all starts in Brazil. But who knows where it will end up. The infamous Carmen Sandiego is at it again! This time she's run off with a rare and valuable edition of the "Travels of Marco Polo." Worth millions! And this is just one of many historic heists that'll have you hopping the globe. Expand your world geography skills. Ignite your critical thinking and decision-making talents. Match wits with the elusive Carmen Sandiego as you recover the stolen treasures of knowledge! Discover the World in a Thrilling Crime Stopping Chase!" -IGN

 

Game Walk Through

  • Enter name to be identified as returning detective or a brand new detective
  • Details of a new case will be given
  • Travel around cities collecting clues of the whereabouts and looks of the criminal
  • Travel around the world to track down the suspect
  • Go through the dossier to become familiar with Carmen's gang
  • Obtain a warrant by entering information about the suspect into a computer database
  • Look up facts in The World Almanac and Book of Facts to finalize promotions

 

Game Objectives

The player must track down and arrest the members of Carmen Sandiego's gang.

 

Educational Objectives

The primary educational objective of the game is to increase interest in geography.  Upon arrival at each location the player is greeted with a picture of the area featuring some famous attribute of the area and a brief description about the area.  The player will need to learn information about each region in the game to take advantage of clues.  Where in the Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? also teaches time management, as the player must catch the criminal in before a certain time.

 

Motivational Elements     

As a player starts as a rookie detective, he is motivated to catch more criminals to move up the ranks.  Each new promotion requires the player to solve even more cases.  Cut-scenes encourage players by letting them know that they are on the right track as well as make the vileness of Carmen's crew apparent, these criminals must be put behind bars. After arresting several members of Carmen's gang, the player wants to know where in the world Carmen Sandiego is and, moreover, would like nothing better than to finally bring her to justice.

 

Educational Outcomes

 Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? is fairly successful as a tool to teach and, more importantly, encourage further learning in geography.  The pictures of locations spark interest in the cultures and geographical features of the regions.  Players will want to know the geography because they will not want to waste time.  On the subject of time, the importance of time management is made clear to the player as he must account for everything from travel times to sleeping. 

 

The process of obtaining a warrant and earning higher ranks as a detective help make the game fun, but also confuses the educational outcomes of the game.  Players may become interested in the criminal investigation side of the game seeing as catching crooks is the main goal of the game.  A player learning about criminal investigation does not mean that he cannot also learn about geography, but does lower the effectiveness of the game in inciting further study in geography.  Some players will still want to know more about the places they visited in the game, but other players will associate the fun of the game with criminal investigation.

 

 


3.  Sim City

Publisher: Maxis Software Inc.   

Platform: DOS   

Release Date: 1994

Version: Simcity (aka Simcity Classic)

 

Description

“The objective of SimCity, as the name of the game suggests, is to build and design a city, without specific goals to achieve (except in the scenarios, see below). The player can mark land as being zoned as commercial, industrial, or residential, add buildings, change the tax rate, build a power grid, build transportation systems and many other actions, in order to enhance the city.

Also, the player may face disasters including: flooding, tornadoes, fires (often from air disasters or even shipwrecks), earthquakes and attacks by monsters. In addition, monsters and tornadoes can trigger train crashes by running into passing trains.” – Wikipeida

Simcity was Will Wright’s breakthrough game.  The game not only spawned multiple sequels of the simulated city gameplay, but also led to simulated environment games such as SimTower, SimTown, and the Sims.

 

Game Walkthrough

Simcity’s main gameplay provides a very open ended environment.  Gameplay does not occur in a linear fashion as players are given a blank area of land which they then develop into a city using various tools, such as creating buildings and roads and setting taxes.  The game has no clear ending, as players continue to develop their city until the city is destroyed and they are unable to rebuild. 

Simcity’s scenarios provide more structured gameplay.  Players are placed in the role of Mayor of a real city in either a fictional (Tokyo being attacked by a reptile monster) or historical (the 1906 San Francisco earthquake) situation.  The player’s city is already developed, although parts of the city may need rebuilding.  Although players are free to develop the city as they wish, they are given specific objectives at the start of the game.  Players must reach these objectives within a set amount of time in order to complete the scenario.

 

Game Objectives 

  • No clear way of winning

  • Create a functioning metropolis through building infrastructure and managing resources

  • Develop funding in order to build more advanced structures

  • Protect citizens and structures

  • Manage disaster situations

  

Educational Objectives 

  • Gain experience in cit development through simulated environment
  • Learn effective city planning
  • Manage money and resources 

 

Motivational Elements 

The main objective in Simcity is to create a successfully functioning city.  Due to game’s open-ended gameplay, players have many options to achieve their objective.  Experiencing identical gameplay is nearly impossible, which allows for great replay value as players explore new methods and techniques to develop a city.  The scenarios provide a more structured gameplay, but continue to allow players to create their own techniques to achieve set objectives. 

Players receive visual analysis of their city through newspaper reports and busy but orderly movement of citizens using their infrastructure.  Players must constantly manage their resources, such as money and energy, as new structures and citizens compete for resources and force players to change their management strategies.  Players can build more power plants and set taxes to increase funds, but they must weigh their strategies with maintaining a high level of citizen satisfaction.  Disasters play an important role as players must have enough resources to protect or rebuild their city.  Players are challenged as their resources begin to run out and they are forced to make decisions in order to continue the development of their city. 

 

Educational Outcomes

Although Simcity was never marketed as an educational game, the game provided strong educational outcomes through its open-ended gameplay.  Since the gameplay is based on the game’s educational objective to develop a city, the game provides high integration between gameplay and educational content.  Due to its exaggerated events and relatively simple resource management, critics may point out that Simcity does not provide an accurate portrayal of its objective, to develop a city.  However, the game’s educational strength is allowing players to develop conceptual knowledge within a simulated environment.  Players establish an understanding of how their actions and decisions can affect their city’s citizens.  Whether it is building new structures or reallocating funds to the police force, players are able to apply their conceptual experience and obtain feedback based on their citizen’s satisfaction level and the city’s overall wellbeing.  As players are able to create their own cities based on their personal techniques, they may also gain interests in aspects such as city planning and money management.  

 


 4.  Reader Rabbit 

Publisher: The Learning Company

Platform: PC  

Release Date: 1989

 

Description

 "The first game in the series taught language arts, featuring a variety of simple games designed to teach schoolchildren basic reading and spelling skills."             -Wikipedia

 

Game Walk Through

 Reader Rabbit provides a variety of games from which the player can choose. In sorter, the player must sort words based on the letters in the word. If a word has the selected letter in the correct position, the player moves it to the left; if not, the player discards the word.  In labeler, players must label objects by placing letters under the correct picture.  In word train, the player must select the word with two letters in the same place as the previous word.  In the matchup games, must find cards that go together through memorization

 

Game Objectives

 Each game has its own objective.  The player wants to find five correct words without making any mistakes to collect all five carrots.  In labeler, the player simply must label the objects.  The player wants to make as long of a train as possible in word train.  In the matchup games, the player finds all of the pairs.

 

Educational Objectives

Reader Rabbit aims to help young children starting to learn how to read improve their reading skills through simple word exercises. There are no explanations of how to use each game to develop reading skills in the game, so it is somewhat unclear how each game is meant to teach reading.

 

Motivational Elements     

The motivational elements of each Reader Rabbit game are simple, but effective for children.  In sorter, carrots are rewarded for every word correctly sorted and if all five carrots are collected the rabbit will do a short dance.  In labeler, a bunny jumps across the tops of the objects once everything has been labeled properly.  In word train, more correct words result in a longer train pulling out of the station. In the matchup games and labeler, multiple sets of objects can be selected with which to play the games allowing a player to choose either a set that he likes better or a set with which he needs to improve.

 

Educational Outcomes

Reader Rabbit works as a fun tool to help a child’s reading skills progress. However, the game is very limited in the amount a child can advance from working with it and a fair portion of the progress through the game will depend on the parental involvement supporting the teaching aspects of the game. The games themselves actually teach little more than object and character recognition. Parents can supplement the game by making their children truly focus on the words, having them sound words out in addition to just the visual recognition needed for the games. Also, every word in the game is exactly three letters long further limiting the usefulness of the game. In the end, Reader Rabbit can be great for getting kids excited about reading, but is very limited in what it actually teaches.

 

 

 


5.  Math Blaster

 

Publisher: Davidson & Associates

 Platform: SNES  

Release Date: 1994

Version: Math Blaster: Episode 1

 

Description

The game's story is a simple rescue mission, centering on the efforts of Blasternaut to retrieve Spot from the clutches of the malicious "Trash Alien". The garbage he leaves behind consists primarily of empty containers and bad food, though coil-springs, boots and fish skeletons are also present.” - Wikipedia

 

Game Walk Through

 

Players are first taken to Math Blaster’s introduction screen where they can choose varying difficulties for gameplay action and math problems.  Once their difficulties are selected, players are taken into the main gameplay where they must shoot their spaceship’s lasers at garbage.  Each piece of garbage has a representative number, one of which answers the math problem that displays on the ships screen.  While answering the math problems, players must be wary of enemy who are shooting lasers at them.  Players must protect their health and keep their lives intact by avoiding enemy lasers or destroying enemy ships.  Players can also shoot power-ups which randomly show throughout the level.  Players add to their score by correctly answering math problems or shooting enemies and power-ups.  Once players finish a level, they are taken to a bonus stage which serves as non-educational segment as players shoot meteors without math problems.  Players are then taken to the next level where the math problems and game play are more difficult. 

 

Game Objectives 

  • Progress through levels by answering set number of math problems – determined by “F” bar on lower left screen
  • Search for the piece of garbage that answers given math problem
  • Shoot enemy ships
  • Gain points
  • Complete increasingly difficult game play and math problems. 

 

Educational Objectives   

Math Blaster teaches players mathematical equations through repetition and determining answers that appear on screen.

 

Motivational Elements 

Players are motivated to obtain high scores based on the game’s memory of past performances.  Players can also increase difficulty of the math problems and gameplay in order to test their skills.  The bonus levels devote time to pure shooting, the main action element of the game.  The game makes practicing math problems exciting through its visual elements of lasers and explosions, while making players answer problems quickly before they are shot by enemies.

 

Educational Outcomes

The glaring criticism of Math Blaster stems from its integration of its educational content with its gameplay.  The game takes a basic gameplay concept, shooting enemies and objects in space, and adds math problems in order to make the game educational.  This means that unlike the top games on the list, Math Blaster’s gameplay and educational content are very distinct. 

  

Math Blaster serves as an interactive method of completing addition and multiplication tables.  Players memorize and apply their math skills in order to differentiate the answers.  The game assumes that players already know the answers to math problems and allows players to increase their fluidity in answering math problems through forcing players to make faster calculations.  Players can practice math problems through memorization and trial and error; however, the game does not help players understand the factual knowledge behind the math problems.  Players gain procedural knowledge by remembering math problems and being analyzed by right and wrong answers through the game’s point system.  The game also provides some motor skills, as players must aim their lasers at moving objects.  While playing the game, players may change their attitude towards math as math problems become more exciting due to the gameplay; however, it is unlikely that the Math Blaster will increase players’ interests in math because the game teaches route memorization. 


6.  Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing

Publisher: The Software Toolworks

Platform: PC  

Release Date: 1987

 

Description

"The program includes a number of speed tests and constantly tracks the user's words-per-minute typing speed. It also includes a number of typing games; games of some sort have been included since the first release." -Wikipedia 

 

Game Walkthrough

The first option in the game is to “Meet Mavis”, which provides a walkthrough of the contents of the game. Once the player wants to begin the game he creates a profile. The player must select his age and typing level, so that the game can determine what kind of exercises to offer the player. The game has drills that teach new keys, focus on speed, focus on accuracy, or focus on problem keys. Some drills involve a metronome with which the player tries to keep up. Other drills require the player to type from a separate sheet of paper. There is also the racing game in which the speed of the player’s car matches the adjusted (for accuracy) words per minute typed. Progress can be tracked on a variety of graphs.

 

Game Objectives

In most drills the objective is to beat the goal WPM set for the player, though some emphasize accuracy over speed. The goal of the racing game is to reach the finish before the other driver.

 

Educational Objectives

The game aims to teach newcomers to typing how to type and also improve the speed and accuracy of players who already know how to type.

 

Motivational Elements     

 Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing tries to mix work and fun to make learning typing easier. The racing game, though virtually the same as the rest of the game, is meant to be a more entertaining typing exercise. There is also an exercise titled “Fiction makes your fingers fly” that provides a more relaxing session of typing. The numerous graphs let the player visualize his progress in specific areas. The player can increase his goal WPM after successfully beating his old goal to keep himself motivated to continue improving.

Educational Outcomes

Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing is a tool to improve a person’s typing skills and it does its job well. While there is actually little differentiation between types of drills, all of the drills help improve typing ability and the slight variation keeps the game fresh. The game recognizes areas that need improvement and prepares drills to develop those areas. The game also allows players to make their own lessons where players can choose to work on anything from words using the right hand only to the most common words.  Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing is an excellent game to learn typing from even if it is not always the most fun. 


7.  Lemonade Stand 

Publisher: MECC 

Platform: Apple II    

Release Date: 1979

 

Description 

From the Lemonade Stand title screen:

“Hi Welcome to Lemonsville, California!

In this small town, you are in charge of running your own lemonade stand.  You can compete with as many other people as you which, but how much profit you make is up to you (the other stands’ sales will not affect your business in any way).  If you make the most money, you’re the winner!!”

 

Game Walkthrough

 

Lemonade Stand first describes the scenario of running a lemonade stand in Lemonsville, CA in order to make the most money possible.  The game explains how player’s decisions on the number glasses of lemonade made, the amount spent on advertising, and what how much they charge for lemonade affect their daily income.  Players start with $2.00, the game then explains concepts such as expenses, profits, and the relation of sales to advertising and price. 

Players are then taken to the gameplay.  Each day starts with a weather report - sunny, cloudy, or hot and dry – along with a picture to represent the weather.  Players then set how many glasses of lemonade they wish to make, how many advertisements they want to create, and how much each glass of lemonade will cost.  The game simulates a day based on the player’s decision and gives a daily financial report, which describes income (glasses sold and price per glass), expenses (glasses made and signs made), profit, and total assets. 

 

Game Objectives

 

  • Make as much money as possible within 30 days
  • Allocate funds to maximize profits each day
  • Don’t waste resources
  • Player with the highest assets at the end of the 30 days to win the game. 

 

Educational Objectives

 

  • Learn to make judicious decisions through business simulation
  • Players must change their strategy of supply management, advertising, and pricing based on weather scenarios

 

Motivational Elements

Lemonade Stand allows players to test different asset allocation strategies in order to maximize profits.  By allowing up to 30 players to play in one game, players are able to compare their strategy to others playing the game.  Players can continue manipulating the number of glasses they make, the amount of money they spend on advertising, and the price they charge for lemonade until they find optimal values of each variable based on each weather scenario.  

Educational Outcomes

Lemonade Stand is successful in achieving its primary educational objective, teaching players about business through making judicious decisions.  The game teaches the basic elements of business strategy such as pricing and advertising.  Players apply and understand conceptual knowledge as they modify their variable numbers each day, and are quickly evaluated through the daily report and the amount of profit they make. 

 

 

Due to the game’s limited number of variables and scenarios, players can quickly discover the optimal variable amounts based on each scenario.  Unlike later versions of the game, the Apple II version simply provided feedback through financial figures.  Players did not know what they were doing wrong, and were forced to modify their variables through trial and error.  Later versions displayed feedback on customer satisfaction ratings and cumulative figures to give players further analysis on how to change their daily strategies.    


8.  Number Munchers

ROM: http://www.cdosabandonware.com/std_games_details.php?gameid=2159

Playthrough: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeMvJcfBDLM&feature=related

Entertainment

  • Cutscenes @ 104
    • Personality @ 104
  • Quick calculations
  • New enemies @ 138
    • Danger
  • Lives
  • Highscore @ 924
  • Level progression - increasing difficulty @ 25
  • Dynamic board with enemies - constant awareness @ 7:00
    • Strategy with safezones @ 010
  • Different modes @ 06
  • Set difficulty @ 930

9.  Zork

ROM: http://www.cdosabandonware.com/std_games_details.php?gameid=1387

Playthrough:

Entertainment

  • Read and think
  • Narrative

 10. Rocky’s Boots

 

Publisher: The Learning Company

Platform: PC  

Release Date: 1982

 

Description

"Rocky’s Boots  was a visual simulation that made it possible for upper-grade-school students to design simple digital logic circuits, using a joystick to move around circuit symbols on the screen and plug them together."  -Warren Robinett and Leslie Grimm

 

Game Walk Through

 Rocky’s Boots takes an ample amount of learning before a player is prepared for the main game. The game takes the player through simple tutorials to become familiar with all of the aspects of the game. The first tutorial explains movements and controls. Next the player is taught how to build machines in the game and learns that the object controlled by the character has electrical charge. The game then introduces logic gates, perhaps the most important objects in the game. The next step for the player is the section of the game called “Rocky’s Boots”. Here the player must use his knowledge about logic gates to solve puzzles. The last components of the game (flip-flops, clocks, and delays) are then introduced to the player. Once the player feels knowledgeable on the newest objects, he can attempt the puzzles located in “Rocky’s Challenge”.

 

Game Objectives

 The games in “Rocky’s Boots” and “Rocky’s Challenge” require the player to use a boot to kick certain objects. Each object has its own point value. A perfect score in every game results in the player accumulating twenty-four points. To kick the right objects, the player will have to use logic gates, flip-flops, and more.

 

Educational Objectives

Rocky’s Boots takes the route of short simple tutorials because it hopes to teach a complicated subject. While the game teaches some problem solving, electronics, and circuit building, all of those come together with the rest of the game to teach some basics of computer engineering.

 

Motivational Elements     

Upon completing each game in “Rocky’s Boots” or “Rocky’s Challenge” with a perfect score, Rocky the Raccoon does a dance. While a short dance may seem like a small reward for solving some complex and difficult puzzles, there are numerous ways Rocky’s Boots keeps players interested. Some puzzles are difficult enough that simply winning is reward enough for the player, so players will feel extremely accomplished as they work their way down the long list of games. If the puzzles provided by the game are not enough, players have the ability to design their own puzzles, truly testing their ability and intelligence. Also players can simply go around and build machines. In the logic gates tutorial there is a secret room guarded by an alligator. If the player is quick enough, he can go in the room and grab a boxing glove before being eaten. The boxing glove does not appear to be anywhere else in the game. A machine can be built with the boxing glove that will punch the alligator when the player enters the secret room. Even though there is no real reward, designing a machine that neutralizes the alligator and allows the player to stay in the secret room as long as he wants makes a player feel incredibly clever and satisfied.

 

Educational Outcomes

Rocky’s Boots is both a simple and complex game. There is little required to beat some of the easier games and the tutorials will make sure players have all the knowledge they need to complete them. However, latter puzzles require tremendous amounts of thought and knowledge. Players will have accumulated a substantial amount of knowledge about the fundamentals of computer engineering by the time they complete the hardest puzzles, possibly without even realizing that computer engineering is being taught. The one drawback of the game, from an educational standpoint, may be that it does not make the players entirely aware of what it hopes to teach them. The game teaches so much that even if a player does not become interested in the digital logic circuits that are the focus of the game, he may still become interested in electricity or analog circuits. Rocky’s Boots presents a difficult subject in an accessible manner making it an excellent learning tool.

 

 

 

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