Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute. There haven’t been any significant educational games released in the last decade or so, right? The last game (and probably the first) to strike it big from that genre was Oregon Trail, taught in schools across the nation. With a crowdfunding campaign, a small team in California, and a few penguins, there’s a group looking to take the education genre by storm.
A development team calling themselves LearnDistrict wrote out a very bold (and truthful) founding vision: “Games and education haven’t achieved a symbiotic relationship because the market hasn’t produced games that actually engage students. As gamers and educators, we strive to find common ground between the stalwart principles of education and the world of gaming. The next generation of learning and gaming is here, and it starts at LearnDistrict.”
LearnDistrict was founded by Laila Shabir and Ish Syed, a husband-and-wife duo. The two are very dedicated (Laila was working on a PhD and stopped to work on the company) and have another eight people on the team for this game. They banded together to use a modern medium with which to teach.
But LearnDistrict isn’t naïve. Their focus is on the player before the education. In an interview with Shabir, she talked about their priority on gamers over students. “…We’re taking one day at a time, focusing first on our games and listening to player feedback closely. Our goal is to create games that are really fun to play independently of the educational value they offer.” This is what makes Penguemic stand out from the crowd. Games developed with the sole purpose of educating students in mind rarely succeed, but we haven’t seen what happens when a group makes the game first.
The game they’re making is called Penguemic. You receive various cards in-game that have different vocabulary words on them. Through some quick problem-solving and recognition, you play the card that will best respond to your enemy’s vocab word. All the words you’ll use in game frequently appear on SAT/GRE/GMAT exams. Penguemic is a test preparation tool just as much as it is a game. It’s definitely a different concept, so where did they get the idea? Here’s a surprising answer from Shabir: Pokémon. “We grew up playing Pokémon and found a really neat way to integrate vocabulary into the game with cards representing SAT/GRE/GMAT words.”
The team states on their Kickstarter page that they’re about 50% of the way through development. The different levels of the game where you gain new allies and spells are called episodes, and the team is planning on having 10 done by late October—the projected release date. The team plans to try and continue development if the Kickstarter falls through, but it will definitely set things back for a while.
The Kickstarter has been going well so far, raising over $30,000 after a few weeks, but their goal of $50,000 with less than two weeks to go will be a close shave. The campaign ends near the end of September. The game will be released on PC, Linux, iOS, and Android systems in October if the campaign is funded. As part of the $10 tier, you will get a copy of the finished game when it’s completed. There’s a huge plethora of physical and digital back rewards available as well. If you’d like to contribute, check out the Kickstarter page.