In the world of game-based learning, there exist a handful of games recognizable by players, teachers, and adults alike- titles like Minecraft: Education Edition, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, and The Oregon Trail, to name a few. But as those of us entrenched in the educational games space know, these titles are simply a fraction of the learning games that exist out there in the wild.
But today, we won’t be discussing “learning games” in the traditional sense…rather, we’ll instead be examining a selection of commercial game titles that stealthily incorporate elements of real-world learning through gameplay, narrative design, and other means. Suffice to say, the majority of the games listed below are quite popular- just not necessarily among the typical game-based learning crowd. Have you had the chance to play any of the games on our list? Let us know over on our Twitter!
Never Alone (Upper One Games, 2014)
Available for Microsoft Windows, Linux, OS X, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One, Android, & iOS
Based on the traditional Iñupiaq tale “Kunuuksaayuka,” Never Alone is a puzzle-platformer adventure game that puts players in the shoes of an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna alongside her Artic fox companion. Developed in collaboration with “the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Alaskan Native people and nearly 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers and community members,” Never Alone tasks players with restoring balance to nature by discovering the source of a mysterious blizzard surrounding Nuna’s village. Designed to help revitalize interest in Alaskan indigenous folklore, the game is part of a growing movement of video games produced by Indigenous people – simply put, Never Alone is an incredibly authentic and unique game that simply cannot be missed.
The Typing of the Dead: Overkill (Modern Dream, 2013)
Available for Microsoft Windows
I’ll start this entry off with a disclaimer: if you are averse to violence and gore in your learning games, you’ll want to skip to the next game on our list. The Typing of the Dead: Overkill is a seemingly standard port of The House of the Dead: Overkill with one game-changing twist: rather than using a controller to aim and shoot, players must type out words and phrases using their keyboard to defeat zombies! Overkill is a bloody, violent, and over-the-top on-rails shooter- and it’s an incredibly fun way for adults to practice and refine their typing skills.
Scribblenauts Unlimited (5th Cell, 2012)
Available for Microsoft Windows, 3DS, Wii U, Android, & iOS
Have you ever tried Scribblenauts, the puzzle sandbox game series from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment? The premise is simple: players are given challenges which can be solved by typing in the name of an object- yes, any object- thereby making it appear in-game. Want to scale a tall wall? Try typing “ladder” or “pogo stick” or whatever else your imagination conjures- the sky’s the limit in Scribblenauts: Unlimited! While the game wasn’t originally designed with educational value in mind, Scribblenauts does help players refine and expand their spelling and vocabulary skills by solving lateral thinking puzzles- providing educational value to players young and old alike!
Assassin’s Creed: Origins (Ubisoft Montreal, 2017)
Available for Microsoft Windows, PS4, and Xbox One
For more than a decade Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series has been lauded learning game fans for its realistic depictions of historic locales and time periods, while simultaneously criticized for its heavy emphasis on violence and killing. That is, until Ubisoft Montreal revealed their all-new, violence-free, education-focused mode for Assassin’s Creed: Origins dubbed “Discovery Tour.” Transforming the bestselling commercial game into a living museum, Discovery Tour lets players explore Ptolemaic Egypt as it existed in 49-43 BC through participation in 75 audio-guided tours curated by real-life Egyptologists and historians. Released in February 2018 as a free update for all Assassin’s Creed: Origins users (alongside a standalone PC version for educators), Discovery Tour is an impressive feat- check out our in-depth coverage of Assassin’s Creed: Origins’ Discovery Tour mode here!
Solitaire (Microsoft, 1990)
Available for Microsoft Windows
Did you use a Microsoft Windows computer at any point between 1990 and 2008? If your answer is yes, it’s likely you’ve spent at least a few of those moments entertaining yourself by playing pre-installed games like Solitaire, Minesweeper, and Hover! But do you know the actual reason why every Windows machine from the period came preloaded with these titles? According to Mental Floss, the true purpose of these games was to stealthily teach users how to operate a mouse! Think about it- features like dragging and dropping files that may seem trivial today were unknown to many in the early days of Microsoft’s operating system. By including familiar, easy-to-pickup games like Solitaire with Windows, Microsoft helped users learn and practice mouse movement speed and precision- skills which remain increasingly valuable to this very day.
Excited to jump in to any of the games we listed? Or perhaps you’ve got another popular game in mind that’s worthy of a spot on our list? Let us know over on our Twitter, then check out more of our game-based learning content below!