July 28, 2014 9:15 AM | Lena LeRay
MMORPG developers create large game worlds and a great many interconnected game systems. They have a steep learning curve for the uninitiated, but they are very satisfying to master. Immersed Games wants to capitalize on these inherent traits to promote learning with Tyto Online, an MMORPG which will eventually grow to incorporate many areas of learning but which is starting with teaching middle schoolers about ecologies.
All of the people at Immersed Games are gamers and understand that games can and do teach things very well. Most of Portal, for instance, is designed to teach you new ways to use the portal gun. Other games have a great deal of backstory, or fictional history, to them which players learn about and discuss for years after the game comes out. There's no rule that says games must teach only fictional things, though. The folks at Immersed Games, who include a doctoral candidate in the field of School Psychology, believe that the nature of MMORPGs is inherently suited to creating a learning environment in which kids can freely experiment with concepts that would otherwise be far less accessible to them.
Tyto Online does have a fictional setting, taking place in a future in which the degradation of Earth's ecosystem couldn't be stopped and the player's character is one of an elite group of students who have been asked to help scientists work to better understand ecologies and prevent similar disasters from happening again. The quests given to the player are all about learning to solve specific problems with experimental biodomes. "For example," the Kickstarter page says, "reports say plants in the Rainforest Biodome are turning brown and shriveling so they are asked to solve the problem. They discover the humidity is off and adjust it to the optimal level for the biome. Or they might be asked to figure out why ants seem to be acting very strange and then dying. As it turns out, a fungus had turned them into zombies!" Later in the game, the student will be asked to run biodome simulations, giving them the freedom to create and maintain a custom ecosystem using the knowledge they have gained.
One of the biggest hurdles that educational game developers face is integrating their games into the classroom. Teachers need to be able to track students' progress. For Tyto Online, Immersed Games is creating a backend which tracks students' progress through certain mastery questlines to help teachers and parents understand how students are faring.
Immersed Games is seeking $50,000 to fund continued development of a base game on which they will build more educational modules later. Their Kickstarter runs until August 11th.