When I was in 4th and 5th grade, we had computers in the back of the classroom that contained some downright cheesy education games — edutainment, if you will. I remember one where I, the 8-year-old student, would run for president in some futuristic world, having to figure out some way to capture the robot vote.

There was Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, another where the star was one of 30-or-so types of fish in the Great Barrier Reef, and that original version of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. There were plenty of others in our computer labs , on those crusty, outdated-even-back-then Apple IIs, but they were all boring.

Who cares about stupid lemonade stands, or for scavenging for food on an island and learning about ecosystems? I want to play Lemmings, or even The Incredible Machine, but while I was in the computer lab, my choices were limited to the crappy games in the computer lab, and they didn’t include the fun games back in the classroom. I wrote off edutainment as uninteresting, unfun whose educational value was, as a direct result, very low.

Imagine my surprise when, via Kotaku, I found a list of fun, worthwhile edutainment computer games. What struck me about this list is that not all of the games are edutainment in the strictest sense. Sure, there’s Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego and a Oregon Trail and a few other traditional titles, but the bulk of the games in this list were or are major releases from major developers.

Case in point, there are a few games I certainly remember playing instead of doing my schoolwork, and as recently as yesterday.

1. Civilization III: Civilization III puts students in charge of planning, managing and competing with other civilizations. Students will learn all about different systems of government (everything from anarchy to communism), geography of the world and loads about the history of civilizations and leaders from Genghis Khan to Queen Isabella of Spain. The game challenges students to use their problem solving skills to build successful civilizations and learn what causes civilizations to rise or fall. …

3. Age of Empires III: This game allows students to learn about the rise and fall of empires all over the world. This third installment covers the medieval to mid-1800’s in countries in Europe and North America. The game has potential for add-ons that cover Native American and Asian civilizations so students can get a broader understanding of world civilizations in the modern era. Students will be challenged to strategize military, resources development, and expansion of societies all over the world. …

7. Pharaoh: Get firsthand experience of the societies of ancient Egypt with this strategy game. Students will build up Egyptian civilizations from small communities to large-scale cities complete with pyramids and obelisks. The game provides accurate information about conflicts, leaders and Egyptian mythology and vocabulary and can be a great addition to lessons on Egyptian history. …

15. Roller Coaster Tycoon 3: A day at the amusement park hardly sounds educational, but students can learn valuable lessons when building their own roller coasters in this game. The coasters must meet certain physics requirements in order to make it around the next loop or to avoid flying off of the track, and students will be forced to use their understanding of how these principles work to build fun and functional rides. Students can apply lessons about G force, kinetic and potential energy to their game play.

Edutainment isn’t limited to games strictly designed for educational purposes, and edutainment games are often better off when they aren’t strictly designed for educational purposes.

I imagine that 15-hour Tetris marathons would teach quick and accurate logical thinking; that any simulation game could have a place in a general curriculum; that even Bloons Tower Defense would teach some modicum of strategy.

Edutainment opens up once you stop getting hung up on that label.


  1. Do you not consider Lemmings educational then? I remember having to use my brain quite a lot while playing it – although it really upset me that I couldn’t keep them all alive!

  2. Lemmings was one of those rare, fun exceptions — if memory serves, it was like an Age of Empires or a Tetris and wasn’t marketed as an edutainment game.




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