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The Mobile Gaming Mavens on whether educational apps have - or even should have - game

Tablet RAZR or Tabula Rasa?
The Mobile Gaming Mavens on whether educational apps have - or even should have - game

The Mobile Mavens is our panel of experts drawn from all sectors of the mobile gaming industry.

This week, the panel found themselves digging out their old class photographs and attempting to squeeze on their now rather snug uniforms as we asked them:

Futurologist Ray Kurzweil recently said that children should be able to use their iPads in schools, as these devices are superb for learning.

Do you agree? What's been wrong about educational games so far?

Ustwo's Mills™ dared to disagree with Kurzweil. He thought that the iPad and its apps were great for new users, but he felt that exposure to these devices would stunt a child's imagination.

"Childrens' imaginations should not be boxed inside a wonderful device - no matter how smooth it is," he opened.

He argued that the current generation of mobile devices were so user-friendly that anyone could pick them up and use them at any stage in their life.

He also wanted a separation between education and entertainment.

"My daughter Gracie has had an iPad since her 2nd birthday - she is 3 - and she uses it purely for watching Peppa Pig, Netflix, and playing with Toca Boca apps.

"My concern would be that to her iPads are for her downtime. Taking them into the classroom might make them feel very different and I'm sure she'd end up watching Peppa or plugging my apps rather than clicking on 'Peter' the education Chimp app."

Pie in the sky

Will Luton of Mobile Pie was just as skeptical about the potential for current educational games to replace more formal learning.

"The iPad, or any internet connected device, is a conduit to the collected knowledge of the human race; of course kids should be able to use them. They don't inherently make education more engaging, however."

Despite this, he thought that the current educational system was worse than what educational games and tablets promised.

"There's a tendency to use gameplay as a reward for the dull learning bits. The good educational games are either games first or ones which make a process playful ... like EveryCircuit on Android tablets," he offered.

"People switch off when a load of knowledge is dumped on them and then they're tested on it. That's pen and paper. They respond better when they're shown a small bit and asked to figure out the rest themselves. That's what tablets can do - but probably don't yet."

Informal education

Although, Luton explicitly disagreed with Mills' demand to separate entertainment and education; "I agree, nobody wants to tap Peter the Chimp. You want to mash something up in GarageBand or find out how something works on Wikipedia or use the iFixit app to teardown your Xbox and fix it..."

"That's exactly where all the good shit is - when children, or adults, are in their downtime. Formal education and school is a modern construct. Give people the tools to educate themselves in their own time and they won't even know they're doing it."

Jani Kahrama of Secret Exit agreed.

"It would have been incredible for me to have had an iPad-like device instead of a numeric calculator for math and physics back in the 90s - it would have cut down tremendously on tedious mechanical repetition and allowed for inspiring visual exploration of how different math functions behave," he added.

"It's a totally different situation to manipulate 3D objects on screen and understand how vector math ties into it than to study similar stuff on paper."

Already there

Christopher Kassulke of HandyGames argued that many existing games are already educational.

"...Physics, micromanagement, strategy, reaction, mind, puzzle games, etc. They just don't call themselves 'educational game' as this is 'unsexy' for consumers."

As for the explicitly educational games, he agreed with Luton. "They are offering the worst gaming experience you can have - because they are not produced by game developers."

iPad iQ

Additionally, he took issue with any claims tablets can't serve as learning tools.

"I see my kids growing up with an iPad and they love to do so many things from gaming to watching movies, listening to interactive books, checking out the stars with PM Planetarium or just Skyping."

He argued that we had to be open and responsible about how the current generation use the tablets, like our parents were about our PC usage.

"The tablet is a tool so it has both pros and cons. But it's up to the older generation - parents, teachers, etc - to teach them how to use the power they have in their hands, and when it's time to learn and when time to play."