“Materialism doesn’t make you happy, but compassion does.”
That’s a tall order to teach children between the ages of 6 and 12.
Trip Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts and now head of If You Can, gave a speech at DICE today emphasizing the educational potential of video games. He highlights the perceived propensity for games to steer children’s attention away from education and into exercises of repetition and memorization. While many games today explore domains beyond the concrete concept of game mechanics to address more ideas, themes, and even controversial topics, games that are typically tailored to this demographic tend to fit a very traditional formula.
Of course Minecraft and games of the like are glaring exceptions to the rule, however Hawkins is looking to educate children on something far removed from basic engineering and physics puzzle solving, he’s looking to address emotional intelligence.
If You Can’s cleverly named “IF…” is set to be an iOS title, known to launch on iPad at this time, and will be a story driven sim/RPG built around the concept of emotional awareness of others. This idea on its own, particularly when looking at its target audience, is one that could have easily been pitched as Mass Effect without the combat. But the gap that sits next to the element of emotional attention is filled with appropriate game systems.
Players will be constantly confronted with scenarios that emulate different dimensions of emotional awareness, some of which discuss bullying, an appropriate topic for the age range. One specific encounter will present players with a Standford’s ZimbardoPrison Test dilemma where the contrasting tribes of the game – cats and dogs – are set in prisoner and prison guard like roles. Much like the prison test, the scenario is meant to educate the concept of empathy.
Along with having Animal Crossing like interactions and mission design in between, players can also befriend Vims, characters that withhold mystical energy, and build healthy enough relationships with them to the point where their services become available, much like Pokemon training.
IF… is a game with significant expert consultation as well. Hawkins went to the lengths of collaborating with field experts including Janice Toben, responsible for the Institute of Social and Emotional Learning, Roger Weissberg, CEO of CASEL.org, Marc Brackett and Robin Stern from the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence, and Fred Luskin of Learning to Forgive.
“Cyberbullying is growing. It’s driving youths to commit suicide. If you happen to be a bully, the redemption of a bully is something you can learn. Both victims and bullies can play a game like this. I don’t think being a bully makes a bully happy. With tragedies like the shooting in Newtown, Conn., there was alienation in both directions. Students were alienated from a boy, who then felt like an outsider” Hawkins says.
But even with all the consultation, Hawkins is aware that educational software has limited effective capacity outside of basic emotional education. He sees this as a complimentary component of positive social influences such as family and mentorship.
I see this as a critical project; one that is rarely explored for such an audience. Children at this age are more absorbent to being coached proper interactions with others. It’s crucial for children between the ages of 6 and 12 to be exposed to a game like this; creeping up to the stages of adolescents would be less effective as teens are more concerned with their social standing, and are less responsive to social fundamentals.
Trip Hawkins looks to bring a new form of educational gaming, a new era existing past the days of Math Blaster. If you have children this young, see to it that they’re exposed to “IF…”; if not for your child, then for the betterment of the industry’s growth.