Educational Games: Hide the education, highlight the fun!

If the kids in your neighborhood aren’t back in school yet, they will be soon.  So in honor of the “back to school†theme we see right and left at this time of year, I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about “educational†games.  (yawn, I know…but hear me out.)

Many of you know that I wholeheartedly believe EVERY game is educational.  All games teach “soft skills†like playing well with others, taking turns, dealing with defeat, planning ahead, etc.  But then there is a whole segment of games that are what I call “in-your-face educational†and these are the ones I’d like to discuss in this article.

“I’ve created this educational game that teachers are going to love…”

okay… but are the kids?

I get asked a couple times a month if I’d be interested in reviewing an “in-your-face educational†game and I almost always pass on the opportunity.  Why? Because I play games to have fun and a lot of these games make me feel that I’m back sitting in a classroom watching the time tick away until I can do something I enjoy.  Now I’m not saying that all “in your face†educational game stink – but often if “it’s educational†is the major selling point I see that as a big red flag.  I think the best educational games out there are ones where the game is fun and the educational part is a well-hidden bonus.  I mean, isn’t that the point of an educational game – to learn something while having a good time?

Some manufacturers do this very well and here are a few examples of appealing educational games that I’ve reviewed on the site because I really enjoyed them:

A-BEE-C card and dice game in a plastic bee

Chocolate Fix by ThinkFun – logic puzzle

Rush Hour

by ThinkFun – logic puzzle

A-BEE-C Matching Game by Endless Games – learn to spell/letter recognition (out of print)

Scabs and Guts game box with lots of organs on the frontAnother game I’d like to mention is the one that made me want to write this article, and it’s called Scabs ‘N Guts: A “Meducational†Game.  To the astute adults Scabs ‘N Guts seems to be a health class in a box but with a name like that, how can it not be fun?!  Now, I’ll admit that this game’s got a pretty big educational element to it since it’s a trivia game about healthy choices, hygiene and a bunch of gross body facts, and at times some of the questions feel like they fell off a health quiz, but the next 4 questions will be fun and gross so all is forgiven.  Overall, the game’s been done in such an appealing way that I don’t really mind the educational trivia.  The name is great and the box is also a homerun with its super-appealing artwork and adorable organ characters that are featured as the game’s movers!  So really, what kid is going to say no to playing a game that’s A. called Scabs ‘N Guts and B. has a box looks like that?!  None I tell you, even the adults were intrigued!  Imagination Entertainment originally manufactured the game and now Spin Master has it and I hear they’re changing the box to something more “mad scientist-like†but I hope is just as appealing.

The funny thing is I KNEW that Scabs ‘N Guts was a pretty “in-your-face†educational game but I still really wanted to pull it off the shelf and play it.  Which brings me share a valuable lesson with all of you inventors, self-manufacturers and small manufacturers out there.  Despite the fact that I’m less than a fan of “in-your-face†educational games I can be suckered into playing if a game successfully accomplishes the following:

1. Make it look fun. It’s a GAME for Pete’s sake!  And if ThinkFun made logic puzzles into a box of chocolates, anything is possible.

2. It should also BE fun and this should be the selling point of the game.’s a game, not a math workbook or a spelling quiz.

3. Give it a great and fun sounding name.  Avoid words that sound like classes…seriously!  But also pick something that makes sense.

4. Make the package super appealing.  This is important for every game, but even more so if you’re going to try to dupe consumers into buying a game where they might learn something.  I don’t walk into the game aisle looking for something that’s going to educate me, I walk into it looking for something FUN to buy and play.

5. Keep the content fun and light and not too “in your face.† One thing Scabs ‘N Guts did well was teaching healthy choices through fun questions – like one where it asked about the number of germs on your body and let me tell you, I wanted to go wash my hands right then and there!  Obviously, asking about the number of germs was better than asking “What times during the day should you wash your hands?†which makes me want to fall asleep….just like in health class.

Remember, kids already sit in school for hours so they don’t want to sit through more problem sets, quizzes or lectures when they come home.  And parents and adults have already “done their time†in the school system and now when they have free time I think they’d rather be doing something fun that’s going to make them laugh versus tackling something that reminds them of their high school or junior high years and how long ago that really was.


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  1. Lindsey

    Love the photo – totally unexpected and stopped me in my tracks (that is, if I wasn’t already sitting down.)

  2. Nigel Scarfe

    Hi there, just a brief comment to agree with many of the points you have raised. My company specializes in using games in schools to combat a number of issues and develop a wide variety of skills across schools in the UK. WE have seen the effect they can have when taught correctly and the right games are used. People, especially kids, are natural game players and they love the interaction that they create.

    Lets hope that moving forward they are seen as they right way of engaging young people and an essential part of learning.

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