As the times shift, so do the attitudes towards teaching and the integration of learning and video games. Year after year it becomes more obvious that digital entertainment presents seemingly endless educational possibilities, especially when paired with guidance from a parent or a teacher.
The best educational games, made for purpose, are designed to assist with classes, or communicate knowledge and develop skills organically. However, even titles not designed for the explicit purpose or teaching can hold valuable lessons for many ages, from kids, to teens, to even adults, because we never stop learning.
|Minecraft Java Edition||2013-11-19||Action||36%|
|Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition||2012-07-18||Adventure||13%|
|Kerbal Space Program||2015-04-27||Adventure||89%|
|Sid Meier's Civilization VI||2001-11-25||Economy||94%|
|Animal Crossing: New Horizons||2020-03-20||simulation|
|Nancy Drew: The Deadly Device||2012-10-23||Adventure|
|Nancy Drew: The Shattered Medallion||2011-05-20||Adventure|
|Scribblenauts Unlimited||2011-05-20||Arcade & Platform||90%|
|SimCity: Complete Edition||2011-05-20||Economy||60%|
|Two Point Hospital||2011-05-20||Simulation||73%|
|Organ Trail: Director's Cut||2011-05-20||Economy||48%|
The educational value of Minecraft is well-known, so much so that Mojang’s game is actively used in schools as a teaching aide. There are several reasons why it works so well for education. First of all, it’s a phenomenal software to foster creativity not just in children, but at any age. Second, the way crafting and building works teaches planning and spatial reasoning.
There are also many elements in Minecraft, such as logic gates and mechanical bits which can be used to teach simple programming and engineering. Another aspect worth pointing out is the multiplayer, which can be used to teach effective communication and co-operation towards a common goal. You can’t go wrong with using Minecraft as a teaching tool.
Planet Zoo you could kill two birds with one stone. Since it’s a tycoon-type game, it’s valuable as a tool for teaching the basic of financial planning and communicate the idea of money in a clear way. That aspect of the game would be more suitable for older children, while younger kids will likely be drawn to the realistically portrayed animals and freeform creative mode.
Each animal requires different conditions and care, which can be a great aide for teaching about real animals, especially with how believably they are presented in the game. There is even a system revolving around conservation and helping endangered species. It won’t replace formal education, of course, but it can be a great way to make children more interested in the wellbeing of animals.
Zoombinis is a series of educational games dating back to 1996. The latest release came in 2015 (a remake of the original) and it follows a group of titular Zoombinis as they try to escape from evil Bloats. Each stage of their escape is a new puzzle challenging logical thinking, pattern recognition, and problem-solving skills.
The titular creatures are likeable, and it’s easy to get invested in their journey, providing a good motivation to complete the challenges. The maps are also lovely, with fun interactions and creative designs contextualizing the puzzles in immersive ways. This game has a low barrier of entry, great puzzle design, and friendly aesthetic, great traits for an educational game.
Kerbal Space Program
Although the Kerbal Space Program is a very complex game, it also looks friendly enough to be an interesting option for some simple science and engineering education. KSP even comes with a Science mode, which focuses on experimentation and gradual development of technology. With a good assistance from an adult, whether a parent or a science teacher, it can be a great tool.
The titular Kerbals are a very silly little species, which make even engineering accidents look funny, reducing potential frustrations. There’s a lot to love about Kerbal Space Program, even before adding its substantial expansions. There’s a sequel scheduled for 2023, but in the meantime, use the original KSP to inspire children to get interested in science and vehicle engineering!
|Developer:||Colossal Order Ltd.|
Cities: Skylines is a bit more abstract than other games on the list, but it’s a great game about infrastructure and management masquerading as a city-builder. It’s more complex than some more historically minded games in the genre (such as Nebuchadnezzar, which is well-worth checking out as well), but it might also be easier for a young player to relate to what’s going on.
Skylines has realistic traffic simulation, policies and district, and many other options necessary for a comprehensive city-building game. It won’t be immediately useful at school, but it does a good job teaching something about the way cities are operating, which is a valuable knowledge in its own right. This game also has a great “reward” factor, because it’s lovely when things work smoothly.
BodyQuest, as the name might suggest, is a game about teaching children about the human body. It mixes dynamic action segments with puzzles, trivia, and quizzes about anatomy, and keep everything in a friendly, cartoonish aesthetic. The game takes place within an abstract human body, filled with puzzles, computer terminals, and aliens, who are the driving force of the story.
The main characters are young scientists who shrank themselves down to infiltrate their friend’s body a take on the infection from within. BodyQuest does a really great job teaching kids about basic anatomy and related topics, such as rudimentary nutrition. There are several levels of content, designed for kids of different ages (ranging from 6 to 10+), giving this game a lasting appeal.
|Developer:||Aspyr (Mac, Linux)|
The Civilization series is almost completely ahistorical, what with randomly generated maps, anachronistic immortal rulers, and potentially completely different direction of development. However, what earns Civ6 its place on this list are the broad strokes: the ideas behind each civilization, the nuances of inter-cultural relations, and more.
Civilization VI features a few dozen different civs (once upgraded with expansions). Each of them has unique traits and aptitudes inspired by their real-life counterparts, and as they develop, they come up with inventions such as “printing press” or “democracy” which had a great influence on real-life cultures. It’s a great jumping-off point to building an interest in actual history.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the latest installment of the overwhelming cute and friendly series about making a living in a place populated by anthropomorphic animals. Thanks to its low-stakes gameplay and lovely aesthetic it’s very kid-friendly, and under the guise of regular activities might teach something about planning, design, and even trading.
AC:NH placed a strong emphasis on featuring a friendly, helpful gallery of NPCs, forming a strong sense of positive, mutually beneficial community. Thanks to this, Animal Crossing also has a fair bit of didactic value, which is worth taking into consideration. Overall, AC:NH is a lovely, friendly, clever game for players of any age, with a focus on becoming a part of the (mostly NPC) community.
Nancy Drew (series)
|Release date:||1998- 2019|
Nancy Drew is a teenaged protagonist of a mystery book series dating back decades and still going strong. The series lived to see video game adaptations, and many of them are really good adventure games taking Nancy around the world to solve the unsolvable. Not only can they teach logical reasoning and problem solving, but often also teach something about the visited region.
There’s even a special subset of the games dedicated specifically for education, with worksheets and study guides based on what’s going on. These titles include Secret of the Scarlet Hand, Midnight in Salem, or Egypt-themed Tomb of the Lost Queen. They aren’t flashy, but the mysteries are engaging, the locations are interesting, and the puzzles are challenging in the best ways.
|Genre:||Arcade & Platform|
|Developer:||5th Cell Media|
Scribblenauts Unlimited is a fantastic game about coming up with creative solutions to problems. The gameplay revolves around creating and manipulating existing objects to complete challenges presented by the game. Items can be attached to each other, receive new traits and interactions. SU’s Steam version is Workshop-integrated, which expands the possibilities even further.
Like many games on the list, Scribblenauts Unlimited had a nice, 2D aesthetic, with nice designs and vivid colors, and the interface for object customization is clear and easy to navigate. Between its objective-oriented gameplay, clear rules, and open world structure, this game can be a good entry-level game before shifting to larger, more freeform options such as Minecraft.
Teaching can take many forms
This concludes ourt look at a few educational video games, ranging from titles remembering the early 2000s to more modern solutions. We’ve made sure to include both offline games, and some which allow for online co-operation, because learning teamwork is as valuable as gaining new knowledge.
When it comes to learning video games are a fantastic resource that absolutely worth incorporating into the syllabus.