Educational Games: An Unserved Market

I’ve been thinking, recently, about the computer games (“educational games” is what I suppose the genre is called now) I played in my childhood. Back then we had a IBM 286 PC with a menu system on top of DOS, which we eventually upgraded to Windows 3.1—by the time we upgraded to Windows 95, I had become tired of all of the “educational games” we had, and preferred more “grown-up” games (card games, strategy games, puzzle games, etc.)—though even now I’m not much good at most computer games.

When I thought of those games I had known and loved in my childhood, I went looking for them, and for equivalents. The Learning Company, which made several of the games I remember (Midnight Rescue, Treasure Mountain, Treasure MathStorm, Reader Rabbit III, Gizmos & Gadgets—though some of those I played only at school or friends’ houses, and one only much later), is still around and apparently still making games. I suspect that the companies that made the simpler, less polished games (which were for all that just as fun and, for a budding academic, often less tedious) have all gone out of business by now. But on the “equivalents” side of the field: TLC is apparently still making games, and there are a few other big names, but my impression that all the effort is going toward an audience of older children, who would be bored by the games I’m thinking of. And all the free software games I’ve found in my cursory search are in only a very few categories: learning basic computer skills (e.g. TuxPaint), beginning to learn to read, and … one other category I can’t think of right now. Furthermore, I was surprised to find no free imitations of the classic games I remember.

So it seems to me there’s a possibly untapped market here, or at the very least a niche of “the free operating system” that’s missing: basic educational programs, to help kids learn and drill the essential skills that they’ll need for the rest of their lives. Things like counting, recognizing patterns, basic arithmetic, dealing with money, fractions, elementary reading, basic science, some history … and the list goes on, and what we need is not “one program to fit them all”, but games customized in design to best fit the skills they’re trying to develop. (This is not to say that we shouldn’t create a library and make each game a thin veneer over that library, but the engine, or the library, is not what’s missing—it’s the games that use that library or engine.)

For now, I’m putting “educational programs” on my long and growing list of programming projects I’d like to get to someday, along with the mathom game, reimplementations of some old libraries we happen to have libraries for (more on that in a later post sometime), and so on. But if I could find a partner, or some collaborators, to fill the gaps in my expertise (art, visual design, some low-level stuff) and check my work, I could move this up in the queue and start working on such a program very soon. Any takers? Any ideas?

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