The Top 10 Free Educational Video Games

The main reason for inclusion in the top 10 was the impact a game had on the educational gaming field. Some of these are getting rather long in the tooth as far as games go, yet their impact is still being felt in educational research that was foundational or continues to be published. On the other hand, new titles are coming out all the time and this list may well change in the future.

The criteria for inclusion were simple. The game must be free and preferably available online. Some of the games are modifications of existing games (mostly Neverwinter Nights). So, mods are free but to run them you will need to purchase the original engine. But that’s a minor quibble since they are free if you already own the engine.

I am interested in other titles, so if you have a favorite that is not on the list, drop me an e-mail and let me know about it. Finally, I also included the learning objectives, host URLs, and my comments on the games. So, give these educational games a look-see, and consider using them in a classroom or other formal learning situation. And let me know about it if you do.


1. Revolution
Type: Modification of Neverwinter Nights Gold
Learning Objective: Experience historical incentives for the American Revolution from the grassroots level.
Host URL: http://www.educationarcade.org/revolution
Comment: This is the game that started folks talking about seriously using the modifiable Neverwinter Nights engine for educational purposes. Several papers were published on this game, focusing on its interactive means of teaching students about the American Revolution. It was perhaps best introduced to academics in a widely read article by Joel Foreman over at George Mason in the first issue of Innovate.

2. Re-Mission
Type: Executable
Host URL: http://www.re-mission.net/
Learning Objective: Understand cancer better and develop a positive attitude toward defeating it.
Comment: It’s a big download, but well worth the wait. The game from HopeLab is aimed at teaching young cancer patients about the disease and providing opportunities to enhance understanding in a positive environment. It offers the latest in educational videogame design, with backing from a well-funded sponsor. Also available in Spanish and French, and can be ordered for free on CD by mail.

3. River City
Type: Multi-user Virtual Environment
Host URL: http://muve.gse.harvard.edu/muvees2003/index.html
Learning Objective: Develop an understanding of the scientific method through inquiry and teamwork, as well as an appreciation for history and environmental issues.
Comment: One of the two big NSF projects for educational gaming on this list, with several years of research following its progress. This Harvard product is freely available to schools, but only on disc through the mail. The team prefers sending it to teachers wishing to use the program in science classes. Chris Dede spearheaded the project.

4. Quest Atlantis
Type: Multi-user Virtual Environment
Host URL: http://atlantis.crlt.indiana.edu
Learning Objective: Help students understand social studies, environmental concerns, current events, and scientific standards.
Comment: Although this Indiana University project offers a guest area where interested parties can explore the Quest Atlantis universe, the NSF-funded project requires teachers contact the team before allowing full access. Several thousand participants have joined QA, and research is ongoing. Sasha Barab spearheaded the project

5. Arden
Type: Modification of Neverwinter Nights Diamond
Host URL: http://swi.indiana.edu/arden/index.shtml
Learning Objective: Attain an appreciation of Shakespearean authorship and Elizabethan England.
Comment: As part of the Serious Worlds Initiative over at Indiana University, Arden was initially funded by the MacArthur Foundation. Executive producer is Edward Castronova, whose book Synthetic Worlds covers many of the economic and social issues in MMOs. Castronova has professed that Arden is not very exciting to typical gamers (no monsters to slay). However, the notion of exploring Shakespeare’s world should prove interesting to English majors and other aficionados of the Bard’s work.


6. The History Canada Game
Type: Modification of Civilization III
Host URL: http://www.historycanadagame.com/
Learning Objective: Understand social forces surrounding Canadian history since 1534.
Comment: O Canada! Down here south of the border, we hardly know ye! But, an initiative funded by Canada’s National History Society and The Historica Foundation aims to change that, for Canadians as well as those outside her borders.

7. America’s Army
Type: Executable
Host URL: http://www.americasarmy.com
Learning Objectives: Teamwork, and a greater understanding of US military expectations for recruits.
Comment: Critics decry this free videogame as a recruiting tool for the military. The Army shrugs its collective shoulders and says, “So?” Actually, America’s Army has many fans with no military expectations. One Ph.D. candidate I work with is a self-described “America’s Army widow.” Almost 3 gigs for the full version; its free nature ensures many adherents for years to come.

8. Food Force
Type: Executable
Host URL: http://www.food-force.com/
Learning Objectives: Understand world hunger and efforts to alleviate it.
Comment: Classroom materials and instructions are available on-site. Besides English, the UN-backed Food Force is available in (alphabetical order): Chinese, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, and Portuguese.

9. Whyville
Type: Instructional Online Virtual World
Host URL: http://www.whyville.net/smmk/nice
Learning Objectives: Provide a student-centered, hands-on environment for exploring various school subjects.
Comment: This Numedeon-backed product is aimed at elementary and middle school students, in hopes of encouraging “scientific discovery” and “social responsibility.”

10. SimCity
Type: Web-based
Host URL: http://simcity.ea.com/play/simcity_classic.php
Learning Objectives: Understand variable manipulations for urban management while having fun building a simulated city.
Comment: Critics have attacked its oversimplification of urban management, but countless children the world over have learned such truisms as the correlation between higher taxes and a disgruntled populace. Also, if you deplete the fire departments’ budget, disasters will devastate your city! The original SimCity is available online gratis from Electronic Arts, with adverts for the newest version, SimCity 4.

Update:
This list is getting long in the tooth, and many new games have been developed or improved since its introduction in 2007. For one, check out Selene from Wheeling Jesuit University’s Center for Educational Technologies. It is free, available online, and promotes science learning along with lunar exploration.

More great educational games are discussed on this blog on a regular basis. Subscribe to the RSS feed to keep up with the latest posts. Thanks.

74 Comments

  • By Paul, December 16, 2007 @ 12:38 am

    Thanks for the list John. I was fortunate to talk with Matt W. (now back at MIT) about Revolution earlier this year and many of the points he brought up are now echoed by Arden. I haven’t taken the time to play around in Arden yet, but there is still so much potential with the NWN toolset.

    Thanks again.
    paul

  • By Jonas Wegener, December 16, 2007 @ 7:18 am

    Hello John,

    i think the Game “Global Conflicts: Palestine” is a candidate for your list. Well, it´s not free, but €20 isn´t really expensive…

    http://www.globalconflicts.eu

    best regards and congratulations for your great blog!

    Jonas from http://histucation.wordpress.com

  • By John Rice, December 16, 2007 @ 10:49 am

    Paul – yeah, I mostly gave more weight to games with good research value over play-ability. Most of the free games developed on a large scale have involved researchers trying to figure out the intricacies of incorporating pedagogy in a videogame.

    Jonas – I indeed considered GCP, but like you say it does cost money, so I left it off the list. Perhaps it could go in an honorable mention category.

    JR

  • By Nancy, December 31, 2007 @ 6:28 pm

    Have you seen Travian? http://www.travian.com/ I’ve glanced at it but my kids haven’t played it yet. I emailed the developer to ask a question and he called me from Munich!!

  • By paralleldivergence, January 2, 2008 @ 6:22 pm

    Take a look at Stu’s Double Jeopardy – completely free and otally configurable. Best Jeopardy game going around for classrooms.

    http://jeopardygame.wordpress.com

  • By Sharon Sloan, March 17, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

    Do you have any suggestions for HIGH SCHOOL level Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry games. Most of what little I’ve been able to find is at middle-school level.

    Thanks.
    sls

  • By John Rice, March 17, 2008 @ 5:43 pm

    @Sharon: I’d try AquaMoose 3D, available here:
    http://www.cc.gatech.edu/elc/aquamoose/

    Also Logo, Scratch, and Alice can be used at higher grade levels to create games that integrate math content. This involves considerably more work on the part of students, but that’s kind of the point.

    JR

  • By Free MMORPG, April 18, 2008 @ 11:31 am

    Just read your post for the first time, looks great:) Gonna have a look at the rest of your blog!

    I was looking for a list like this for research purposes. Thanks for sharing:)

  • By Jennifer Anderson, April 23, 2008 @ 12:02 pm

    I am looking for a game that can be used by undergraduates in groups which relates to making life choices. I was hoping for some software that would actually allow them to develop their own game. Any suggestions?

  • By Coupons, May 6, 2008 @ 1:23 am

    Interesting list.

    I think MMORPGs were helpful in learning basic economic principles, if that counts for anything.

  • By Good Free RPG Games, June 5, 2008 @ 7:07 am

    Excellent, great resource for showing my children. Fun online games while sneaking a little education in :)

  • By Fred, June 20, 2008 @ 5:41 am

    Thanks for this comprehensive list, it’s great!

  • By Welas, July 25, 2008 @ 3:11 am

    All parents want their children to play and learn in safety, but sitting in front of a television is not the alternative most parents seek. Rather than simply watching a screen and being “spoon-fed” a constant stream of input, children benefit from the use and manipulation of real, tangible educational wooden toys.

  • By asalinasci, August 1, 2008 @ 4:10 am

    In Vedoque, we make free educational games. Originally, we make the games in spanish. But now we start to make them also in English. In our English Blog (http://envedoque.blogspot.com) we comment how we did it. You can play our first englist game in http://www.vedoque.com/games/game.php?j=paint-vedoque-game.swf. New english games coming soon.

  • By Weptenveste, August 2, 2008 @ 4:16 pm

    I agreed with you

  • By Jay, August 30, 2008 @ 9:37 pm

    Hey, in the spirit of asalinasci’s post, I found this language learning game. It’s called Polyglot – the link is above. Kind of interesting, but doesn’t really seem like it’s for kids.

  • By Steven Hoy, September 8, 2008 @ 8:20 am

    You might want to consider looking at DimensionM from Tabula Digita. While the game series are mostly for sale, there are some free demonstration versions (which are really a full game (or mission as we call them), that folks can download and play. I’m not sure if that qualifies under the catagorization of the top 10 free educational games, but they are worth a look.

    The emphasis is on Math and they are researched-backed. University of Central Florida conducted reserach with Orange County Public Schools (FL – Orlando) this past school year with some very positive results. Their research brief is posted on the website.

    Thanks

    Steven

  • By John Rice, September 8, 2008 @ 4:20 pm

    Hi Steve. I’m a big fan of Tabula Digita and have blogged about them several times. Thanks for pointing out the research brief. You’re right, Dimension M doesn’t qualify for inclusion in this list, as it’s not free. Check out this post I wrote about U. Florida and Dimension M back in Jan.

    JR

  • By oyun, September 13, 2008 @ 6:57 pm

    good thank you

  • By Gamer, October 24, 2008 @ 8:39 am

    I like the America’s Army game. It’s FREE!

  • By EduFunToys, November 14, 2008 @ 8:08 pm

    Nice list. I love SimCity and Arden. Those games rock!

  • By jeff aron, January 29, 2009 @ 4:15 pm

    Please exam the following free games made available by the Federation of American Scientists

    Immune Attack http://www.fas.org/immuneattack aims to teach high school immunology and general biology

    Discover Babylon http://www.Discoverbabylon.org targets middle school students with a humanties focus of ancient Mesopotamia

  • By SoulEdutainment, March 24, 2009 @ 8:34 am

    I wonder if anyone can help me? I run a online business selling consoles and educational video games. I am looking for a suppler who can support me with there product for various consoles such as PS3,Nintendo Wii, and XBox. Please can anyone help?

  • By The Boss, April 24, 2009 @ 9:21 am

    I really like the idea of the new gaming systems and I am sure to be back for more help and some suggestions.

  • By Educational Child Games, July 20, 2009 @ 9:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Truly, video games are good for the players. It can boost the player’s cognitive skills.

  • By Free Games, July 26, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

    Cool video games. I also agree some games do improve cognitive skills. The commercial game civilization was close to being an educational for me years ago.

  • By Rosario, August 14, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

    wow… Very nice post, Thanks for share :)

  • By adminonly, September 5, 2009 @ 7:22 am

    Nice collection

  • By Bryan- Logo Design, December 22, 2009 @ 4:36 am

    I don’t know about any one but i got these educational video games from your site, thanks

  • By Ella Rogers, February 8, 2010 @ 9:30 am

    My students are totally engaged when I include online math games within a lesson or as homework. The repetition and association that games = fun really helps them capture the subjects. My class really enjoys http://www.mangahigh.com/, a new site with Algebra, Geometry, Quizzes, etc.

    Has anyone else had success with online math games?

  • By Education Tay, March 20, 2010 @ 8:36 am

    My experience as a teacher for 11-18year old is finding appropriate educational games for any subject. Primary school level age, well there are a lot on the market. In today’s technology age possibly in the future further development of updating games for educational use at all ages with come to the forefront. My abilities is not creating games. Students and parents like the use of games when students learn, and I try to adapt any technology into my lessons. There is a large market waiting to be developed with the skills and budget.

  • By Reder, April 22, 2010 @ 10:53 am

    Take a look at Driving Kids – a safe and creative massively multiplayer online (MMO) edutainment game for preschool and early-school kids.

    http://www.drivingkids.com/

  • By Physics Geek, April 23, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

    I’ve enjoyed several of your top 10. I thought I might pass on another you might like to consider.

    http://fightclub.on.toribash.com

    It’s an absolutely free, online, 3d, complex, multiplayer, mixed martial arts simulator. On the surface it’s simply fun, but the game engine uses accurate physics, teaching about vectors and leverage. The techniques I use in rl Aikido work here. The game actually creates an awareness of how your body works.

    Enjoy

  • By Sue Bohle, May 15, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

    I’m doing a panel on promoting Educational Games. Would like to hear which games/companies have done a great job promoting a title. Would then interview them about their techniques and give credit. Thanks.

  • By Aerosuidae, July 1, 2010 @ 9:12 pm

    I’ve been involved in a community project re-imagining Scrabble for the MMO arena, as a game called Wordipelago: http://wordipelago.com/ . It uses a single board of infinite size, with a never ending supply of letters.

    Interestingly, we’re seeing quite a number of kids participating in building the giant crossword, and presumably expanding their vocabulary at the same time!

    The other group the game appeals to are the Seniors, many of whom report that, not only is it fun, they purposely use it as a memory aid to keep the brain active.

    cheers

  • By JOsh Whitkin, October 20, 2010 @ 3:08 am

    This is a great list. THere’s another list in the appendix of “Game Changer” (http://kidnomi.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/Game_Changer_FINAL.pdf) – but what I’m after is a crowdsourced database. It would list all educational games, past and present. Each one would have a series of fields – some subjective like “playability”, some factual like “platform”. Anyone know of such a thing? Please get in touch if so, at josh@wulu-mulu.com (without the dash)

  • By Jamie Betts, May 11, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

    Educational game resources are great tools for both teaching and engagement – something sorely needed in this day and age.

  • By Games, May 20, 2011 @ 10:16 am

    Like others I have to agree that Sim City is a great game. My son was really into it as he was growing up. Selene looks interesting as well. Thanks for the list!

  • By Games, May 23, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

    /

  • By Virginia Garreton, July 7, 2011 @ 9:46 pm

    You might be interested in checking “kokori” videogame. This games was developed by chilean researchers and it is in spanish and english.
    Kokori is a videogame developed to teach cell biology concepts.
    Kokori is an strategy game in a 3D enviroment were nanobots controlled by the player who have to rescue different cells in danger.
    Interestingly the game also include a version aimed to teachers called “the cell navegator”. This navegator is not a game but an interactive animation that teachers can use to show how a cell looks like.
    Kokori is currently under evaluation to quantify it potential impact in biology learning of K2 students

  • By game trade in, September 13, 2011 @ 4:47 am

    All that matters is that Gears of war three begins pretty soon

  • By Gale Mentzel, September 20, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

    It is possible to best software to create websites and blogs?

  • By Rev, March 17, 2012 @ 7:36 pm

    To Jennifer Anderson:
    Hi, although this post is a very late reply, perhaps it will still benefit you or others.
    In regards to your inquiry, I can’t help you with the software for developing games part, but I know of a game called “Alter Ego”, which hails back to the days of DOS games and has a version some folks at “Choose Multiple LLC” kindly renewed and provided for free online (there’s also an Iphone/Android version).
    It’s a very interesting “life simulation” game of sorts, mostly provided in the form of short blocks of text that reflect a situation and chart the development of the player’s character–their “alter ego” as it were–from birth to death. During this course of “life”, the player is presented with choices and make decisions as you would in real life, and those will in turn affect their character’s quality of life. There are a set of stats which will also determine the sucess or failure of certain pursuits the player’s character might undertake in life, which are modified through events that might occur or the player’s decisions (e.g. going to school will increase knowledge, etc.) As in real life, there is no win or lose in this game, simply choices and consequences.
    When playing, the thought “Is life really like that?” might cross your mind, but in the end, it’s a game that really makes you think and puts things into perspective. Of course it’s by no means a perfect or even comprehensive simulation of life, but among the many games I’ve played as a decades-long gamer, it’s one of the best “life simulators” and truly something unique.
    Here’s the link to the game and an additional link to the Wikipedia article that provides a little more insight into its history:
    http://www.playalterego.com/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alter_Ego_(1986_video_game)

  • By Albertha Weitkamp, March 22, 2012 @ 11:26 am

    I genuinely enjoy looking through on this site, it has excellent articles .

  • By Kody Enders, April 30, 2012 @ 12:30 am

    Im grateful for the article.Thanks Again. Much obliged.

  • By Loren N. Dillard, August 5, 2012 @ 7:01 pm

    Just how long will it take to reach the point where I’m able to create basic video games utilizing C++?

  • By Damon Short, September 25, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

    you’ve got an excellent blog right here! would you like to make some invite posts on my blog?

  • By Becky, January 21, 2013 @ 3:45 am

    Great Educative list ! Thanks.

  • By game online, January 26, 2013 @ 6:23 pm

    Hi Edugamesresearch,
    This question may be a little off-topic, Santa wants to bring my 4 and 5 year old girls an educational video gaming system for Christmas, but the only one I have found is the V-tech motion. The reviews on it are horrible. Does anyone know of another system for preschool age children?
    Thanks

  • By niks, May 22, 2014 @ 9:21 am

    great list )

  • By Stan, May 22, 2014 @ 8:22 pm

    Let’s not forget the bubble shooter game http://thebubbleshooter.net/ it doesn’t teach you math or alphabet but it is one of the best games to improve response timings :)

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