There are numerous creators and designers out there who are producing games specifically to educate and I tip my hat to them, while quite often backing their projects, such as those from Genius Games.
Genius games produces fantastic resources for introducing chemistry and biology to high school students and younger. It takes the reactions, molecules, and cells out of the textbook and allows them to play out mitosis and chemical reactions in a very visual process. They build proteins and compounds with all appropriate values, processes, and necessary components in a way that very readily translates into the classroom, igniting the science bug, furthering the strength of STEM for our students, reducing the scary intimidation factor so many experience.
“But this isn’t related to mental illness” you may say, “oh but it is!” I riposte. My eldest daughter struggles with Dyslexia and Speech and Language delays, while also navigating the hurdles of inattentive type ADHD and Acute Anxiety. Complex mental health needs are far from uncommon, the clear majority of mental illness has massive lists of common comorbidities; disorders which are frequently found side by side with other medical conditions and disorders. Anxiety is highly comorbid with Autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome, Behavioural disorders, learning disorders, cerebral palsy, … The full list is incredibly long.
Genius Games has made Science accessible for her, it has taken it from the intimidating word heavy textbook and placed it into a format which is in her own language; visual. It has by passed the textbook, the Anxiety, and attention challenge of attempting to comprehend the subject from a page of heavy jargon, placing it into a physical card with the appropriate name that performs the appropriately labelled action in a manner that closely resembles the true action in science and reagents.
It is so effective that she has outpaced her peer’s in Science. In this application, the game is an alternative media or format which better suits the skills and needs of the student for this subject reducing the impact and complications of their mental illness and increasing accessibility of what is for the average student, an incredibly challenging subject.
That is not to say that John Coveyou’s games are the ultimate solution to education, they are a long-needed tool for students and teachers everywhere and I am ecstatic at each new game presented. It makes it accessible, but they are not their go to games when they want to have fun, they haven’t caught the bug to the extent that Science is their thing. It was my thing but they are not me, their thing is fantasy and art!
This means we still need to find a product which is accessible, with a skinner box but grows on the knowledge they have gleaned from games like Ion, Covalence, and Virulence. We need highly thematic games which take the time to base their spells and potions on science. Accurately associating reagents; with explosive results, healing results, applying appropriate terms and mechanics within the game. A mini game that doesn’t necessarily reveal the complete inner workings and details of mixtures and compounds, rather, building associations of terms. It is by frequent repeated exposure to the language, jargon, and associations which will build those connections between those concepts in their minds to be able to easily recall during exams. I am hopeful that when Chemcaper the chemistry RPG is finally released it will finally bridge that gap.
This is not to say John has missed the mark, in fact he has hit it incredibly, no one product can cover all needs, and if it tried, the product itself would be so convoluted and intimidating that the sheer weight, scale and quantity of the material would render it inaccessible. We need creators to each do what they do well and fill all these levels of access and approach to have a well-balanced library of resources on which to draw, to meet individuals where they are.
Another educational designer, although they likely wouldn’t consider themselves such, is Aaron Welch at Battle Bin, last year he released his game called What Just Happened? It was described as a PG rated Cards Against Humanity, however it is so much more. Rather than simply selecting cards to fill blanks, which she plays without reading the cards, he has opened it up to become a story telling game, an Improvisation tool that provides a small selection of prompts. Who, What and Where. For my Eldest, What Just Happened? provides her with low risk, easily accessed opportunity to explore and play with new words, sentence construction, expressive language, and context which can help her through practice to build confidence in using language, that she can’t fake her way through.
Of course, the rules are just the rules, they are written to be broken, although as written are ideal for purpose, we have the flexibility to extend the time frame of telling the resulting tales.
To an extent having a disability or mental illness means finding alternative ways to do things or learning to do the same things you do, only via a different path, which may not at first glance appear to make much sense, but when looking at the combination of challenges presented makes perfect sense and allows access to skills which would otherwise be behind barriers.
Ni No Kuni the console game is perfectly designed for guided reading practice with visual cues for context and a combination of captioned narration and written storyline to read through, while being so much more exciting and interactive than audiobooks; being fed through headphones while you follow along in the book. The game lends motivation and draws her into the story, providing a desire to overcome any intimidation reading the story may bring. One aspect of inattentive type ADHD is a lack of motivation and attention. Left to her own devices she will find a comfy spot with a familiar routine and simply live out her days. Some days it feels like pushing her to not so much complete her education just for the sake of completing it, but rather to engage in all the little things necessary to encounter and learn on the path to being able to study the subjects and skills which interest her.
Without something to draw her interest and drive her to engage the connection simply doesn’t occur. This is where skinner boxes are the holy grail for engagement. For her, material which doesn’t hold interest can feel like wading through mud, having lost your gum boots 6 slow meters back, and your socks are losing hold on your toes.