Our group is exploring educational games that delve into the basics of ecosystems, so I wanted to critique a game that had a similarities to the one we are designing.
I started by using Brain Pop’s search engine. I have to give the website an A+ for usability. It’s simple and educator’s can easily explore topics or find something more specific. I’ve worked with a number of teachers and not to play the generational blame game, but older educators do seem reluctant to use technology in the classroom, possibly because they don’t have the knowledge that seems to be engrained in younger generations. I think that Brain Pop has created a website that is very easy to use.
The Food Chain Game…
I watched the Food Chain video, which explained what a food chain was and how it worked. The video also highlighted what happens when organisms become unbalanced. The video was fairly basic so I was hoping the game would help contextualize some of that information.
Without knowing anything about the game, I imagined it would be pretty interactive. I hear, “Food Chain” and immediately imagine a game where animals are eating each other to survive. However, as soon as I clicked on the game I learned that it was more of a “fill in the blank” structure. You’re instructed to drag and drop the given parts of the food chain into the correct order. You know you have the correct order when the animals come alive and simulate the food chain.
The instructions are very straightforward so most children should be able to use the game with minimal support. I would say the target age range is 3rd to 4th grade. This guess is largely based on the subject matter, not the difficulty of the game. In order to be successful at the game, you needs to understand the basic principles of food chains.
My first critique is that there isn’t any sound. While the user does get feedback if they answer correctly or incorrectly, I think it would be more successful (and interactive) if there were sound. Even in the “simulations” (which I will critique later) there is absolutely no use of sound. I wanted to stop playing the game immediately.
To make matters worse, the simulations aren’t really simulations at all. Instead, they’re essentially stop action shorts that show the order in which organisms are consumed. Artistically, I love them but I guarantee that a 3rd or 4th grader will not care about that.
In terms of connecting the video content, the game does a decent job. The video was very basic as was the game. However the video spends a good chunk of time talking about the consequences of an imbalanced food chain and the game does not address this at all. Personally, I think that is an incredibly important aspect of ecosystems, especially as students become old enough to realize humans impact on the ecosystem. I did like that they incorporated “the human” into the food chain, but that was the extent of the human’s role in the food chain.
There was scaffolding in terms of difficulty. The difficulty increases as you move forward. There aren’t any hints (which probably unnecessary) but there are no explanations either. I hate games that are too wordy, so I understand the reluctance to incorporate text but I think the game could incorporate more information. I would suggest adding sound to describe what happens during the simulation.
The game is also very short. You only go through roughly 7 levels. There is absolutely no replay ability. The game is exactly the same every time you play it and it’s so short that you can play it once and never need (or want) to play it again.