Tuesday, May 19, 2009


We all know that video games can directly serve an educational purpose, often unforgettably so. Edutainment software has long abounded; The Oregon Trail long ago taught us that dysentry is a real bad way to go, as in "that's-some-awful-karma" bad (for my part, that game also learned me to ph33r any river that runs more than three feet deep. My bad, oxen!). Carmen Sandiego is still out there even today, determined to teach children geography and wordplay through crime in her latest, a (currently) French-only release last February. We've seen money hats and mascots co-opted into the educational spirit, with the results sometimes inspid, like Mario is Missing, and sometimes wonderfully inspired, like The Typing of the Dead (Making a zombie's head explode by typing "I SPARTACUS"? When's the sequel?) Many titles these days are directly marketed towards adults as altrustic "mind-training" devices, such as Brain Age and Big Brain Academy. In more forward-thinking educational facilties, such as in Britain or over in Indiana, videogames are starting to be implemented directly into the teaching method itself, something I've long wanted to see.

All that being said, what's really great is when plain ol' videogames, the non-educational kind, the kind that is often painted as a frequent pariah of soul-sucking sloth and dysfunction by braying pundits and suspect studies (such as this recent one from Brigham Young University), are themselves co-opted by clever, inventive types for educational purposes, defying expectations and proving they too can have a place in teaching.

Such as: Mario Kart Wii teaching the dangers of DWT!! (or: driving-while-texting) Frankly, such a class would've perhaps saved the shopping cart me and my fiance were recently pushing around a Home Depot parking lot, where it was plowed by a DWT'er in a giganto white Suburban. Then again though, Mario Kart by itself already does of a good job of teaching drivers not to drive while distracted (i.e. keep your eye on the road, player, and not at the sight of Peach smashing her face into ground after you clipped her with a red shell).

Or: Second Life to teach geology because Kansas sux for geology!! Yep, two clever academics took advantage of a grant to create a virtual world in Second Life where students who live in a state that's 90% flat plains can learn geology effectively. The grant was a whopping $700,000; that's how clever those two academics were.

Or: Teacher uses Wii Weather Channel and Wii News Channel to teach current events and geography!! The guy managed to find a use for Wii Weather and Wii News. Nuff said.

We now close with the Rockapella-sung opening to the Carmen Sandiego TV show (with sing-along lyrics!).

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