Scribblenauts and the Future of Educational Gaming

ScribblenautsIf you haven’t heard of Scribblenauts…you’re not a gamer. Scribblenauts is the new DS puzzle game where you solve puzzles by writing objects into the game. The object is created and it helps you (hopefully!) obtain a “Starite” to complete the level. So what’s the big deal about this game? Why all the buzz? Well frankly, because it’s utterly amazing. The vocabulary that this game has is phenomenal. It has things ranging from Keyboard Cat, to beavers, to Kraken–almost anything you can imagine. No trademarked characters though. So Sephiroth, Harry Potter, whoever-that-Twilight-guy-is, and Chun-Li will not be coming to your aid.

So why am I talking about this on (un)Enlightened English? Well, some of you may know I’m a gamer and a mild techie. But the implications of a game like this are tremendous. There is a mode in Scribblenauts where you cannot use words to complete the level that you used in previous levels. That means you have to think. “Chainsaw” won’t work for everything. Each puzzle is different and you’ll have to think of a new tool to help you beat the new obstacles you face. It’s a great tool for kids to play a game and expand their vocabulary. Heck, even adults may expand their vocabulary. You will always have to think of something new.

Plus there’s the innate desire we all have to “beat the system.” You want to come up with that one word that the game doesn’t have. It may not have every internet meme or anything and you could probably confuse it if you put “Level 80 Tauren Shaman,” but I challenge you to think of an average, run-of-the-mill word that this game doesn’t have. Nothing like dusting off those unused vocabulary words from the back of your brain.

I always tell my students that there are ways they can learn while having fun. For my English as Second Language students, I suggest to read Mangas in English and read popular novels like Twilight or The DaVinci Code. They CAN enjoy this game while practicing their vocabulary. Not only is it cute and fun, this game opens up yet another realm and can show so many of the nay-sayers that not ALL video games are violent, not ALL video games make you stupid. This is an educational game–even though it isn’t termed “educational,” much like “Civilization IV” isn’t coined “educational.” Which is kind of a good thing in my opinion. The “mass market” won’t even look at a game that’s filed under the education section.

I would love to see a game like this used in a classroom environment, particularly with children. The graphics are cartoon-y and cute and–much like children’s imaginations–the possibilities here are endless. Imagine a classroom where a teacher assigns their students to complete a puzzle with a word starting with “b,” or with a word that has three vowels (oranges, anyone?). Children will think of every word they can meeting that criteria, and anything that gets children excited about words and vocabulary is a winner in my book.

Scribblenauts is the future of educational gaming. Now we–the educators, the parents, the older siblings, whatever–need to embrace this type of word-building game and share it with our future generations.

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  1. The way you feel about gaming, I feel about FanFiction.

    Many of my ESL students, and some of my native speakers as well, are stretching their creative AND intellectual muscles by writing fanfiction / drawing fanart based on their favorite Anime programs and TV shows. My students do this for many reasons, but the umbrella reason is they want to be part of the creative process, and a lot of times they are locked out of it for reasons that go beyond Copyright.

    There is an impression among many students that you can only talk about a work if you “speak” in theory. That is not the case at all. Any thoughtful way a person engages a work — be it in “common” language, theory, or fan appreciation — needs to be spoken about with equal thought. James Bond fanfiction that illustrates the sensual style of Ian Fleming is just as effective at illustrating what is missing from the current incarnation as a twenty page Freudian study.

    Since fan fiction, like gaming, is a tool to be used to engage a work, a time period, a school of thought, it must be embraced or we will find ourselves locked up in the Ivory Tower.

  2. Hi–
    I found one sentence in your piece confusing–I think you mean “There is a mode in Scribblenauts that will not accept words used in previous levels.”
    I got Scribblenauts for my DS and never really tried it–I’m going back!

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