The video-gaming legend who created Electronic Arts, and early Apple employee, Trip Hawkins, is developing games to not only entertain but to educate. His drive to develop games with educational and moral purpose comes out of a belief that there is a “crisis in education” in America where the education system has failed to engage children in with story-telling and fun, engaging ways of learning. Hawkins ideal is to have games that help kids learn empathy, responsible decision making, controlling negative emotions, and building positive social relationships.
Working with Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence and other experts in social development and learning, Hawkins is developing games like “If”, set in an imaginary village called Greenberry, where social interplay is integral to the gameplay. “Greenberry is a world in which there are cats and there are dogs and they don’t get along well,” says Jessica Berlinski, one of the game developers. “So part of the challenge is to figure out why and then working to heal that.”
Berlinski is one of the founders of “If You Can”, a educational technology company founded by Trip Hawkins, Stewart Bonn, and Ben Geliher (formerly of Mind Candy, creators of Moshi Monsters). The company’s development studio is located in Tech City in London. Berlinski says that the goal of the game If is to get kids to navigate interpersonal challenges and failures. “The messaging that kids get in real life and certainly in schools is not that failure is OK – but in game environments, 80% of the time, gamers are failing, yet they are completely motivated to keep going. So something is going on there that is very positive. And we need to capitalize on that,” she says.
Hawkins, an active Presbyterian, says of his educational game projects, “I feel God has prepared me for the entire length of my career to do this.” As he reflects on the past and some of the more violent games made by EA he confesses that he personally got bored of making those kind of games, but he has no regrets. “I do believe in the right to free speech, so long as you don’t do anything really evil or illegal.” That said, he would not let his kids play Grand Theft Auto in which players hijack cars and kill.
As a father of three myself, I can appreciate the deep and pervasive impact computer gaming is having on our children. With high-profile developers like Trip Hawkins making positive steps toward healthy social development reinforcement through gaming, I feel there is hope for the young generation stuck in first-person shooter games and insecure and unrealistic social networking behaviour. As long as these developers create gaming that is as fun, engaging and as graphically powerful as the popular, yet violent, games of today, then I’m optimistic we can wean a generation off killing and onto social and emotional mastery. Part of that strategy will no doubt be appealing to parents who hold the purse strings and will direct purchases toward more educational and positive games.