Two great examples of how education can be fun and how applying the technology of games to education could make a real difference to how we learn. First up is Phun, the 2D Physics Sandbox. The principal is simple. Draw a shape and it behaves like a physical object. Balls roll downhill, crankshafts rotate and objects interact. Its easy to see how this could be used as part of a semi-structured lesson for kids around nine or ten.
Echochrome on the other hand is very hard to explain. Its a game based on Escher-like impossible landscapes through which the player’s mannequin walks, falling through holes and climbing up stairs. But the player doesn’t control the mannequin, they control the point of view. By rotating the point of view so columns block the hole from view and it appears that the the floor is solid, the mannequin can walk straight on. Its a game that reverses one of the basics lessons we learn in early life, that things do not disappear just because they are out of sight. It looks a mind-boggling challenge but it cries out to be played on an iPhone using its movement sensor as a game controller.
Echochrome may not be suitable for education though it will stretch people’s spatial skills. Yet it does show how games can be about more that shooting and blowing things up. A game that is as innovative as Echochrome but teaches spatial skills would be a boon to education.
Echochrome should be released sometime towards the end of 2008 on the PSP and PS/3. Phun can be downloaded for free for the PC.