One thing I see again and again in Nintendo educational games is that, with few exceptions, they are solitary affairs. And, when they include a multi-player mode, it’s inevitably of the competitive nature. Beat my score, top my level, etc. It’s understandable; video games and games in general usually involve a certain level of competition. Even in orange-slice soccer leagues who don’t keep score, there’s the personal level of getting a ball past an opponent, kicking or handling skill comparisons running in the kids’ minds. I get it, we’re a competitive culture.
But we’re talking about friends and siblings, here – why can’t we design our Nintendo learning games to teach cooperation, rather than competition?
This is going to require a bit of a sea-change in the industry, I’m guessing. We’re so used to setting the highest score and putting our initials up for all to see. Most of the video games out today, whether Nintendo educational game or 360 shooter, are competitive first, solo-campaign next, and co-op mode possibly as an afterthought. For those of us with two children, wouldn’t it be nice to see a game that teaches teamwork? Sharing? Couldn’t our educational games include modes that require players to work together to solve a puzzle, rather than see who can finish it the fastest?
We have a few examples in the Nintendo educational game world, but look at the mature video game titles! There is a definite trend in these games – most of which are violent, unfortunately – to offer the ability to invite a friend or sibling to take on the game’s challenges together. It’s great! Some actually require teamwork between two players in order to get the best gear or score the highest possible mark; in other words, they don’t require that you play with a friend to succeed in-game, but they offer plenty of incentive to do so.
More carrot, less stick.
It’s unfortunate that, for the most part, the library of Nintendo educational games is pretty scant when you’re searching for a game to help teach your young ones teamwork. It appears to be an oversight, rather than a calculated move on the developers’ parts.
There’s also a level of “flying solo” in our educational system. Tests are taken alone, no book, no hints, no help, and especially no looking over your fellow student’s shoulder. That’s fine – I understand – we want to find out what each student knows, hopefully with the goal of shoring up any weak spots in a child’s education. But the school-type setting is exactly what we ought to be avoiding in Nintendo educational games. We shouldn’t want to remind our gamers of school, of stress, of tests and exams and pop quizzes. Our goal, ultimately, should be to make learning fun.
I believe this effort would be helped by including cooperative modes in our Nintendo educational games. It probably won’t be easy, coming up with exercises and lessons that require cooperation. But it has to be possible, whether through a more rigid gameplay mechanic (think driver/navigator, researcher/writer, or hands/feet) or unique mini-games (drawing two halves of a picture from memory, alternating teacher and student roles, or simple collaborative playing to solve in-game puzzles).
I’m happy to watch my kid learn as he plays. I’d be even happier if he found encouragement and excitement in tackling a problem together with a friend. Nintendo’s been the leader in console innovation; let’s see them make some powerful strides in cooperation and collaboration for their next spate of Nintendo educational games.