Mostly it is, but sometimes the fun part disguises an ulterior motive – education. And whether the fun or the didactic element predominate, games with a serious bent are all around us. Here’s an edited excerpt from the Rough Guide; in its original form it accompanies the review of Civilization IV.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you can learn something from Civilization. However, Bitcasters and 2K Games took the idea to its logical conclusion with a modified version of the game entitled HistoriCanada: The New World, which was donated to 100,000 Canadian high school students in 2007. Already known for providing reams of historical background information, Civ was the perfect vehicle for enlivening one of the least interactive of school subjects.
In the UK, too, there’s work going on, particularly through Learning & Teaching Scotland’s Consolarium project, whose founder Derek Robertson has been evaluating the use of videogaming in teaching. One of his experiments involved children aged 9 and 10 playing Dr Kawashima’s More Brain Training for fifteen minutes before maths classes; not only did the children improve in speed and accuracy, but they were found to be more focused than the other kids and more enthusiastic about the subject.
It wasn’t difficult for the brain game to keep the kids’ attention as it’s designed to do just that, as a commercial title; it doesn’t matter whether the playing environment is a classroom or a living room. More often, though, and rather less fun, games are appropriated in order to send didactic messages. What better way to persuade young men, a notoriously hard to reach section of the population, of the perils of drink driving than by advertising on billboards in Project Gotham Racing 4 on Xbox Live? That’s what the Scottish government concluded, anyway.
Whereas the anti-drink driving message has yet to yield results, studies by the likes of Munich University and the British School of Motoring have shown that players of racing games are more likely to take risks when driving in real life. Similar points have been made about drivers who listen to certain types of music, too, but a game of slow and careful highway driving seems almost as ridiculous as banning car radios.