The most cognitively challenging and intellectually stimulating video games are more immersive and can take several hours to play, says Justin Leites, vice president for games at Amplify. That’s why the company, which is developing 30 such educational video games for the 2014-2015 school year, wants to take advantage of students’ time outside the classroom, Leites says.
“There’s a huge amount of research, some recent, some going back decades, showing that what kids do outside the classroom is hugely important to their success,” he says.
Amplify’s games, now being “play-tested” by students nationwide, will be primarily for sixth through eighth graders, and they will focus on Common Core math and English and Next Generation Science Standards. Amplify’s English games are designed to encourage students to do more reading outside of school.
One of those games, Lexica, sends students into a virtual library that has a collection of classic literature. Characters wander out of books, appear on the screen and interact with students playing the syntax, spelling, and vocabulary games within Lexica.
Students also can use the characters to write their own stories, which can be turned into games that others can play. “The social part of games is really engaging for them and being able to make something and share it is a really powerful game mechanic for that age group,” Leites says.
Another advantage of video games is that they can be changed. “In the old days, if it were a game like Monopoly, the game would be published and that would be it, “ he says. “Now, not only is it possible for game designers to continue to improve on a game, that’s really the expectation of kids. Going a step further, the kids want to be active participants in the ongoing development of the games they love.”
For teachers, there will be interfaces that provide immediate data about students’ performance. “For this whole model to work,” Leites says, “the games have to be good enough that the kids will voluntarily choose to play them.”