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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.