Amid the boom in educational video games, a game developer based in both San Francisco and Mexico is trying to set itself apart.
Over the next two years, the company Yogome will be partnering with the Yale lab play2PREVENT in an effort to improve the educational value of its “Heroes of Knowledge” games. These games aim to teach elementary school students about subjects ranging from math and science to health and sustainability, and game developers will use data collected by the Yale lab to increase the games’ effectiveness.
“There are a lot of games that claim to be educational, but here we are committed to doing some trials to measure the impact on the kids,” said Manolo Diaz, CEO of Yogome.
Diaz said the play2PREVENT lab was a natural choice for a partner, as the lab already has experience applying rigorous methods to evaluate video games. In an ongoing study, play2PREVENT is conducting a randomized controlled trial to evaluate outcomes of PlayForward, a game that the lab developed to decrease rates of risky drug, alcohol and sexual behavior in adolescents.
Diaz added that play2PREVENT shared Yogome’s vision of creating games that children will enjoy not just in class but also outside of the academic context. Studies show that kids learn more outside of school, Diaz explained, and limiting the use of these games to schools greatly reduces their impact.
According to Lynn Fiellin, director of play2PREVENT, the researchers will engage key stakeholders such as parents and teachers, in addition to the children, to better tailor the games to each of their needs.
In the “Heroes of Knowledge” games, the Evil Queen Ignorantia tries to destroy the planet, and it is up to the children to save the day. They embark on missions that require them to draw on the skills and knowledge they learn through the games.
“Parents really like the hero concept,” Diaz said. “It gets kids excited about the subjects, and if they get excited about practicing math, learning becomes that much easier.”
The games developed by Yogome are not meant to replace classroom teaching and traditional forms of homework, Diaz explained. Rather, they are meant to be complementary. The technology is still in the early stages, he added. The team hopes that children will spend the time they would have spent playing consumer games on the “Heroes of Knowledge” games instead.
Michael Young, professor of educational psychology at the University of Connecticut, cautioned that much of the research in educational technology overlooks how the same game can have differing effects on individual children depending on their mindsets during gameplay.
“You give a video game to two children, and they may play it very very differently,” he said. “One could play Angry Birds to try to destroy the pig houses, but you could also be trying to figure out how a catapult works. You would expect very different outcomes, but most research misses this factor.”
Nevertheless, Yogome is confident that the collaboration will improve the quality of their games. The company has created a team dedicated to reworking the games based on feedback from the Yale lab.
Since it was founded three years ago, Yogome has received $2 million in funding from angel investors.