For Educational Games to Work, They’ve Got to Bring the Fun

Dennis Kerr Coelho, Director of Vertical Games, on why educational games matter, what works, and what doesn't.

Last week, Vertical Games hosted Games in Education, a two-day workshop on how gaming and play can transform the pedagogical realm. A division of the Santa Catarina Association of Technology Companies (ACATE), Vertical set out to introduce the world of games to an audience at UFSC, the Federal University of Santa Catarina.

Dennis Kerr Coelho, Director of Vertical Games, outlined his objectives for the workshop prior to the event:

The idea is to present the world of games to the audience so that they will adopt initiatives in that area and encourage interest in new technologies from that base.

We reached out to Kerr Coelho after the workshop to get a more in-depth view of his perception on games and the potential they have in education.

Emily Stewart: You’ve just hosted a workshop about games in education. Why focus on this specific sector?

Dennis Kerr Coelho: We are focusing on this sector for two reasons. First, it is a big market for the gaming industry, in addition to being a market where the government has great buying power and could help local game companies. The second reason is a bit ideological, because all of the gaming industry knows the power of engagement that games have and are interested in showing that power to teachers and demonstrating how these techniques can help teachers in their day-to-day.

ES: What works in educational games? What doesn’t?

DennisDKC: In our view, games in education should be seen as a way to engage students in tasks that normally they find boring or tedious. But to have that power, games have to be designed first as entertainment so that they can be included subtly in pedagogical content.

The wrong way to do it is to create a game completely based on content and pedagogy and forget to engage the player. The game should be fun. There is no point in making educational games that do not resemble any games the student spends hours playing outside the classroom.

ES: It can’t always be easy to make sure a game is both educational and engaging. How do you achieve that balance?

DKC: In my opinion, which is practically the same as the other entrepreneurs in vertical games, the best way is to make a game along the same lines as those which the student is accustomed to have fun with outside the classroom. You then add didactic and pedagogic content subtly, always worrying about not mischaracterizing the mechanical for the engagement and enjoyment of the player.

ES: For what areas do educational games work best? For what age groups?

DKC: I think that games can and should be used in all areas at all ages. Babies, generally, develop important abilities through games, for example, in the case of puzzles, and they can help the elderly in various ways as well. It’s necessary to break down prejudices and pedagogical paradigms regarding electronic games. We have excellent studies and very positive results on the use of games in all ages, groups and areas.