Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 125 / JANUARY 1991 / PAGE 73

Learn and play, play and learn; games that teach are more fun than ever. (The Brave New World of Electronic Games)


The computer has long been viewed as a boon to the educational process, and educational software designers are making the most of it. Many educational software publishers are taking lessons from computer game designers, using entertainment techniques to make learning more appealing to students.

Entertaining educational games and products span the classroom curriculum. Publishers such as Britannica Software, Davidson and Associates, The Learning Company, and Broderbund use software to make math, language arts, social studies, and the sciences more accessible to today's students, both at school and at home.

The engagement offered by interactivity serves as a spur to study. At the most basic--and in some ways most important--level, that of drill and practice, the computer offers an unexpected advantage over human teachers. The software doesn't get tired, processors don't lose patience; an educational program is able to continue working with a student long after a human teacher would tire or grow impatient.

But drill and practice isn't everything, merely the foundation on which everything else rests. What do software designers build on top of drill-and-practice sessions? Problem solving, analysis, deductive reasoning, word problems, real world situations, and more--all all of it educational and all of it disguised as play.

Consider The Learning Company's latest entry in its Super Solvers series: Challenge of the Ancient Empires! Using techniques familiar from arcade games, Challenge's designers pit players against mysteries involving ancient treasures and lost civilizations. In the midst of arcade sequences, students also find themselves solving mysteries, putting together puzzles, and making decisions.

Davidson and Associates has produced a long-running series of educational software products aimed at coordinating student's mastery of basic vocabulary and math skills and translating those skills into higher-order thinking. Math Blaster Mystery, for example, helps students make the transition from fundamental math skills to applying those skills to real world problems.

Britannica Software's Revolution '76 attempts nothing less than a re-creation of the American Revolutionary War, couched in the form of a game but filled with interesting facts and insights. Even young players discover very quickly the human, fiscal, and emotional side of the war for independence, as well as its political and military nature.

Educational entertainment remains in its infancy, yet those companies that have made a commitment to the field are assembling an array of tools and techniques that will serve them well as technology evolves.

Oddly--or perhaps not so oddly--the technologies that have the strongest hold on the minds of the young have yet to make much of an effort to provide educational entertainment for their players. Nintendo, Sega, and NEC doubtless know which side of the market their bread is buttered on, yet it would be refreshing, and probably profitable, for the big video game companies to offer at least an occasional educational cartridge.