A poverty of educational software

I was kind of sad to read the review of the latest Carmen Sandiago game this morning.

First off, I remember the original game, Where in the World is Carman Sandiego ? from Brøderbund which I thought was a fantastic platform for teaching kids geography.

It was great fun and educational. It was not just a “memorize the capitals” flashcard type thing, but taught you some details about the country and culture there and allowed you to use deductive reasoning to figure things out. It also taught you the value of researching, going and looking up something, and in a lot of ways, was an inspired title educationally. You’d use the clues, research and storyline to determine where Carmen had escaped to in the world and then track her down there and recover the artifacts. OK, it was never that big a challenge to me (I am scarily good at world geography) but after having an adult last month ask me where exactly the Netherlands were, I definitely think that some people could use it even now. The things I loved about it were that it was engaging, played well and was chock full of educational content (I can still remember that is where I learned whose currency the zloty was).

I will suffice it to say I have not seen one good title with any educational content beyond a pre-school level in a very long time and it seems like a dreadful waste of the medium. I remember what an opportunity I thought Microsoft had missed in the original Age of Empires with the pathetic descriptions of Greek, Roman and Syracusan history and conflict or how they missed an unbelievable ability they would have had to stealthily educate kids on the origins of early civilizations (nb: AoE still remains one of my favourite games ever for crushing my brother via catapult). Even worse is the pathetic lack of mythology content (deities or stories) they provide in the latest Age of Mythology over 3 world civilizations.

Play is education. Not using games to create educational opportunities just seems, well… uneducated. I’d be interested in anyone that can point to some good educational titles both for adults and say kids older than 10. Admittedly, this is not an area I keep tabs on regularly, so I may be missing out on some titles or things that have simply slipped below my radar screen. Doesn’t matter what the field or subject is but I’d be interested in seeing software that is both entertaining from a play perspective and chock full of educational, brainy goodness. Even inspired tutorials for creating programs (thinking of the original Logo programming turtle here) count. I have to admit I’ve been sorely disappointed with most “Learn To” books in recent memory. This is a huge market, as evidenced by “smart toys” and other “brain games” for kids that adults buy, but seemingly not one you see the large game publishers flocking to.