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Educational Game Ratings

Educational Game Ratings

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Published by Erin Jennings

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Published by: Erin Jennings on Jun 15, 2009
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Standardized Educational Games Ratings: Suggested Criteria
Daniel Hurd and Erin JenningsSpring 2009
Standardized Educational Games Ratings: Suggested Criteria
Intro to Educational Games
Video games have evolved greatly over the years, becoming a more complex andeffective interactive media and forming a highly popular and expansive industry; one that islikely to continue to grow at a significant rate. In 2007 alone, game software sales grew over sixpercent to 9.5 billion dollars (Entertainment Software Association, 2008).Capitalizing on this increasing popularity, educators have the unique opportunity to usemany components of game design and apply them towards a curriculum which utilizes game-based instruction, either through educational games or through the re-purposing of entertainment games. The idea of motivation, for example, can change the sometimeslamented prospect of mastering a new subject into a player-initiated experience, where learningoccurs simultaneously with engaging game play. Harnessing the compelling and immersivenature of games to teach subjects is no small feat, however, and the promotion of these gamesis hindered by the lack of a consistent and reliable rating system. With no effective method of distilling a game down to its educational content, parents and educators may find it hard tochoose a title appropriately.
Intro to Game Ratings
In order to propose a new rating system for games with educational content, it is veryuseful to look at ratings systems already in place. Entertainment games are currently ratedaccording to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, or ESRB. Most of the current gamedevelopment studios submit their games to the ESRB for ratings (Entertainment Software RatingBoard, 2008), and some will even modify their in-game content to acquire a desired rating. This
rating can be found on the back of almost any commercially-available title. This rating system iscontent-based, and categorizes the objectionable content of a game into age-specific ratings. Agame with a heavy violence factor may be given a 'M' rating, or over 18 years oldappropriateness, whereas a game with only comic-style mischief might be rated E for everyone(Entertainment Software Rating Board, 2008).Games with educational content could very well be included within the ESRB's ratingstructure, but the benefits of the current system would be diluted by the rating structure's lackof attention to learning principles. In other words, games that define themselves as educationalwould be graded solely on their amount of objectionable content, and not by educationalcriteria. As few educational games have objectionable (as defined by the ESRB) content withinthem, does an objectionable-content-based system make much sense in this context? We needa rating system more tailored to the unique learning environment of educational games; onewhich can simultaneously assess their educational potential and age relevance, allowingteachers and parents to know, at a glance, where their investment is going.The ESRB employs several subject-matter experts to help in their game rating process.These experts play through parts of a game to determine whether the objectionable contentdescriptors and examples (submitted by the game developers) matches their own proposedrating for the game. Subject matter experts, in this case, are defined as, "adults [who] typicallyhave experience with children, whether through prior work experience, education or by beingparents or caregivers themselves" (Entertainment Software Rating Board, 2008).While the ESRB's approach may be sufficient to point out objectionable content, anyratings system designed for games with educational content should include subject-matter

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