Thursday, October 26, 2006

VFlash and Edutainment

From today's Joystiq, a story about educational game system VFlash (by VTech) and the winner of a recent "kids-only" competition the company held to find the best new game idea.
In a marketing stunt to attract attention to their new educational game system, VTech has named nine-year-old Jonathan Fisher their first Chief V.Flash Officer, a position that carries a $10,000 scholarship as compensation. Fisher won the competition for the position with an idea for a game called Mission Possible, which utilizes players' skills in foreign language, geography, social studies and math.

The system itself is quite inexpensive and seems to play only "edutainment" games. Although I haven't seen this system before, it's a safe guess that its technical capabilities are far below those of the "big three" console systems (Nintendo, XBox and Playstation). I'm quite suspicious of "educational games"--like television and software, the standards for categorizing content as "educational" are quite inconsistent (although Beth Dillon tells me that many game companies follow standards set by various school boards and parent-teacher associations). This is probably due to the fact that the research establishing causality is equally contestable when it comes to educational/learning effects as it is for violence/aggressiveness. These games are often poor quality, and while they generate quite a bit of money, they are among the least played games. I also take issue with the idea that children's play needs to be limited to some sort of predefined "educational" pursuit in the first place. Anil Narine and I are exploring the ideological underpinnings of "educational" games in a paper we're writing for Cultural Politics, where we explore how kids' game play is either framed as "productive leisure" or "wasted time" within the public discourses on digital games.

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