When people start talking about educational video games, chances are they're talking about kids games. I bet the first thing that came into your head when reading that was something like Reader Rabbit, Jumpstart or The Oregon Trail, right? The thing is, a game doesn't have to be labeled educational to teach something worthwhile, nor does it have to make it boring or repetitive to do so. So here are six picks for educational games aimed at adults.
Learn Japanese to Survive - Hiragana Battle/Katakana Wars
For Westerners, learning any language that doesn’t use the alphabet can be an extremely daunting challenge. Japanese, in particular, can use three different types of characters, and for a beginner it can be tough even just knowing where to start.
Battles are always a fun place to start. Hiragana Battle and its follow-up, Katakana Wars, are both fun RPG games designed around the express purpose of teaching Hiragana and Katakana. The games both have plots to go with them, which makes it much more fun than simply slogging through a repetitious series of exercises. Don’t get me wrong, there is still repetition, as when you’re battling the Hiragana or Katakana warriors, the way to defeat them is by correctly identifying them. However, placing this in a battle setting does wonders to dispel tedium.
Both games include pronunciation guides for their respective syllabaries and there are also in-game notes that you can refer back to at any time … except in the middle of a battle of course.
Age of Empires 2
Admittedly, Age of Empires isn’t always the most historically accurate game in actual playthroughs. For example, Cuauhtemoc wasn’t the Emperor Montezuma’s nephew, he was his cousin who then married his daughter, and Montezuma was killed before La Noche Triste. However, the games always use history as a basis, and there is an in-game mini-encyclopedia that gives accurate quick facts about civilizations, rulers, and weaponry, among other topics.
Additionally, the broad strokes of the campaigns are accurate and both the base game and the expansion packs shed light on lesser known civilizations, such as the Khmer, the Saracens, and the Teutons. Age of Empires isn’t a game aimed at history buffs, it’s a game made to get people interested in further reading about history. And in that sense, it’s very educational.
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)
When you think of cultural lore and mythology, chances are you’ll jump straight to Norse or Greek culture, maybe Aboriginal. But what about Iñupiat and other Alaskan Native cultures? Probably not something that will jump to the top of your mind.
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) is a platformer based on a traditional Alaskan story, and it follows the adventures of a young girl named Nuna and an arctic fox named, well, Fox, as they search to stop the source of an eternal blizzard. While the main story in itself is fascinating, as you progress through the game you unlock videos of Native Alaskans giving insight into their culture, history, and community—a fascinating look into a very unique world culture.
Not just interesting from a cultural perspective, the game is also beautifully drawn and well-designed. The story of Nuna and Fox is a wonderful hook, and the Alaskan setting gives the game a unique flavor not found often even in the indie gaming world.
Admittedly, the shortest game of the bunch. The debut effort from Wadjet Eye’s Dave Gilbert, The Shivah is a short but sweet point and click adventure game with a multitude of different endings. And for Jewish people, I’ll admit it’s probably not going to be that educational. But for someone like me, who only knew the basics of Jewish culture and religion from what I learned in school as well as watching The Nanny growing up, it was very intriguing.
Much like the other games on this list, The Shivah doesn’t hit you over the head with how informative it is. Plot and characters are the primary focus, and even though religion does play a huge part in the plot, it’s all intertwined nicely. There’s never a point in the game where you sit there going “Jesus Christ, I wish I didn’t have to learn more about Judaism.”
By and large, a great game for anyone interested in learning more about the basics of Jewish culture, as well as a fun but short point and click game for the less educationally minded.
Endless Ocean 1 and 2
Endless Ocean is hands down the most relaxing game I have ever played in my life, as well as the single game that I have clocked the most hours on. A two parter, the series was originally intended to be continued but was canned for undisclosed reasons. Both games are scuba diving simulators and are published for the Wii. Despite Endless Ocean 2 being technically a sequel to the first game, their plots are unrelated and they can be played in any order. However, there are some notable gameplay improvements that the sequel makes over the first game, which can result in some backwards frustration.
The games, for being scuba diving simulators, consist mostly of swimming around underwater and interacting with fish until you can identify them. There are in-game encyclopedias for both that contain many facts and interesting tidbits about the various species, and the fish are all represented fairly visually accurately. Both games do have exploration plots that you have to follow in order to unlock more areas to explore and more fish to find, but the plots are relatively easy and include a number of collectibles and side missions for taking a break.
The information presented in these games should be taken with a grain of saltwater and not used as the sole basis for any scientific papers, as marine biology is an ever-changing field and new information is being discovered every day.
Puzzle platformers and the wide and wonderful world of fonts are two ideas that probably don’t cross most people’s minds together very often, yet here they are in the same sentence. Most people probably don’t call it the wide and wonderful world of fonts either come to think of it.
To be honest, if it wasn’t for the fact that my college best friend had to take a course in typeface and font design, I probably wouldn’t have picked this game up. Who wants to learn about that? The history of fonts doesn’t sound particularly fascinating or appealing at first glance. While, admittedly, it’s not a topic with the verve and life of something like World War II naval battles or The War of the Roses, aka the basis for Game of Thrones, fonts are still an intriguing topic in their own right.
As you play through each of the levels, you unlock additional content, which provides information about the history of typeface and also how different fonts were developed and how they impacted the development of society and vice versa. Times New Roman may just be an option in the drop down box on Word for most of us, but for advertisers, artists, and printers, it’s more important than that.
Of course, if you find you’re not interested in the history of fonts and are only drawn in by the idea of playing a platformer with the added challenges of being a colon (:) you can do that too, but you may also find yourself learning something along the way.