Computer games and biodiversity

Offering children a computer game on an environmental issue seems natural since both computer games and environment are in line with children’s leisure interests: 77% of 6 to 13-year olds are interested in animals, 64% in computer games, 63% in nature and the environment and 52% in the internet. About 57% of the 6 to 13-year olds own a PC or use the computer of the family. 92% of them use the PC for computer games, 54% use also the internet. These figures suggest that the combination of environmental issues and computer games can be fruitful.

Leisure interests of children

Offering children a computer game on an environmental issue seems natural since both computer games and environment are in line with children’s leisure interests. More specifically, 77% of 6 to 13-year olds are interested in animals, 64% in computer games, 63% in nature and the environment and 52% in the internet. Concerning gender differences, girls are fonder of animals while boys like computer games more. There is however no gender difference in the interest for nature and the environment. [1]

Using computers and the internet

About 57% of the 6 to 13-year olds own a PC or use the computer of the family. 92% of them use the PC for computer games, 54% use also the internet. Concerning children who use a PC regularly, 23% of them use it at least once a week in school and 85% in the afternoons. On average, 37% of the kids that do play computer play 30 minutes per day, 43% of them 30 to 60 minutes and 18% more than 60 minutes. Education programmes are used at least once a week by 45% while 75% use them at least sometimes. Above all, 60% of computer gaming is at home, 30% at school and 20% with friends. Note that 82% of all children younger than 10 have never used the Internet even once. With 10 to 13-year olds, there are still 37% who have never used the internet before. Of those who use the internet, 57% play online games while 80% use it to obtain information for homework. 

Age of children vs. turnover in computer games

In terms of age vs. turnover, the picture looks as follows: games for children under five years figure about 2.5% of the turnover, children between six and seven for 7%, children between eight and nine for about 12%, children between ten and eleven for 21%, those are aged between twelve and thirteen cover 39% and those aged between fourteen and fifteen for about 18% of the turnover [2].

Computer games and the environment

These figures suggest that the combination of environmental issues and computer games can be fruitful. It has however to be stressed that there is no automatism here: while the percentages of children interested in computer games and the environment are high, it remains difficult to develop a successful computer game that combines these two areas of interest. The most popular commercial computer games do, after all, not focus on environmental issues but rather on action scenarios, ego shooters or car races. It is therefore important to define the target group well and to the aims of developing such a game as specific as possible.

The diversity of computer games: platforms and type of content

Games come in many forms, with differences in both the platform used and the type of content. Concerning the platforms, the most common computer games are (1) on CD-ROM to be played on a PC or Mac, (2) Online, to be played in a web browser, often with a Plug-In for Flash or Shockwave, (3) for Consoles, i.e. special hardware for the games. Concerning the type of content, one can distinguish between (1) entertainment, (2) edutainment and (3) education. In terms of software sold, 50% are computer games for entertainment, about 20% edutainment and infotainment computer games and 30% are entertainment games for console [3].

Games for personal computers

The advantage of developing games for personal computers is that the hardware has well-developed in the last years, so that sophisticated games have finally been possible to play on personal computers. However, the differences in hardware and its configurations, drivers and operating systems make it a rather complex enterprise to develop a computer game.

Online Games

Online games are played over some form of network, usually the Internet. At first, online games were very simple and text based. With the development of web based graphic technologies such as Java or Flash, graphic browser games are becoming increasingly popular. Most of them are simple single player games, at most sharing a high-score-list. Powered by recent developments in browser technologies, a new generation of online games with more difficult gaming technology and multiplayer mode capture the market. Due to the lack of secure and comfortable online payment technologies and the online user’s low willingness to pay, most online games are for free. Usually they are financed by advertisement or organisations that want to communicate special messages via the game.

Games for consoles

Games consoles are another important platform, owned by children / families and not yet a common fixture in the provision of educational games. The principle reason for this is a lack of educational or learning software of relevance, or of acceptable quality, with the PC being the main beneficiary of any such software. Throughout the last two decades, games consoles have rarely hosted more than a handful of educational titles each [4].

Different types of content

Concerning the type of content, one can distinguish between (1) entertainment, (2) edutainment and (3) education, although this distinction is by no means straightforward—many games are actually a mixture between these types. Since the goal of a game on biodiversity has a clear focus on specific content to be addressed, it could be either education or edutainment but not entertainment.

Education vs. Edutainment

Software with the “Education“-label are designed to get facts and knowledge across. Usually, there is a clear focus on one school subject. Often, these programmes are designed in line with specific curricula of school subject, aiming at training the pupil. In contrast, “Edutainment” software is often about a broad range of topics or problems, loosely organised according to one perspective. Entertainment and fun is also a much higher part of the game: the aim is that the user gains knowledge while also enjoying the activity, gaining many skills in mastering the game.

Edutainment

Edutainment programmes often combine sounds, graphic, film, text and animations, usually having a strong interactive component. The latter means that the user has influence on what happens—her decisions really matter, implying non-linear unfolding of the course of events. Having more than one route available to explore the game, the user can adhere to her pace and tastes, which ideally yields a much more fruitful engagement with the given topic. Therefore edutainment appears to be attractive because it can be a creative activity, often said to have positive influence on the motivation to acquire new skills and knowledge.

[1] KIM, p 5

[2] GfK Panel Service Consumer Research, via http://www.mediabiz.de

[3] GfK Panel Service Consumer Research, via http://www.mediabiz.de

[4] D-Lib Magazine, http://www.dlib.org/dlib/february02/kirriemuir/02kirriemuir.html