An interesting confluence of factors has come together in recent years, resulting in an explosion of “science games”. Some of these games use science as a theme, many are educational in nature, and some few even accomplish science through gaming. In my opinion these are the factors that have precipitated this change:
- Board/card/video games have all become much more mainstream. You can buy board games at your local Target/Walmart etc. that once would have been considered the province of hardcore geeks (speaking as one myself). This increase in the general popularity of games has resulted in people being more primed to play educational games as well as produced an incredible amount of information about game creation, lowering the barriers to new games.
- Crowdsourcing has made all games, science or otherwise, much more accessible. Instead of having to sell a concept to a big company, unwilling to take risks… a game designer can take the concept straight to the masses. Not only does this act as an important filter on which games get produced, but it gives the producer capital upfront which significantly reduces the risk of producing a game.
- Social media and increased connectivity. Whereas motivated teachers have often created educational science games for use in their classrooms, the best of these can now travel far and wide to be easily adopted by others.
- An increasing recognition of the importance of science communication and alternative approaches of pedagogy. Obviously this goes far beyond games, but in my opinion games are a part of the changing landscape of communicating science.
Certainly all of these played a role in our decision to produce Gut Check: The Microbiome Game (here and here). Interest from others motivated us to then write about our experiences in PLOS Biology. Last week a related article came out in Nature entitled “Enterprise: Game On” in which Roberta Kwok interviewed myself and a number of other science game designers. The articles does a great job of talking about the various aspects of game design/production and the various routes people have taken to successful games. Definitely worth a read for anyone interested in the topic.