There are two major challenges for the learning game industry. First, a great learning game is really hard to make. Simply put, a great game is really hard to make. And with a great learning game, you need in addition to figure out a way to make a game that has pedagogic value – without making the game elements seem glued on top of the learning substance.

There are, however, quite a few awesome learning games out there. This brings me to the second challenge: discovery. I’m sorry to say, but the great majority of learning games out there are really quite mediocre. I have found that the stereotypical learning game is simple math drilling sugar coated with cartoon characters like cute animals. And while this kind of a game may perform well when compared to a schoolbook, it will never last in comparison to an actually well performing game.

I’ve been dealing with learning games for almost five years now. During this time, among other research and activities, I’ve had the chance to review what amounts to hundreds, if not thousands, of learning games. Out of these reviews, I’ve generated a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t.

Since having this knowledge confined in my own head does much less good than sharing it, I decided to compile a number of lists of what I think are the best learning games out there. These lists are, at the end of the day, completely subjective, although some of the selections have been picked up by a pretty systematic set of criteria I developed with some colleagues in the last few years. So your mileage may vary.

I will post the first listing – the best math games out there – in a day or two. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with what still in my opinion takes the Gold Medal, even though the game is already more than three years old.

Last summer, I had the chance to discuss learning games with a very impressive crowd of the people who know the field very well. I asked about what they thought were the best learning games. Practically all of them answered something along the lines of, “Well, do you know this game called Dragonbox? And let me think, there are some others as well…”

Dragonbox, the algebra game by a small Norwegian studio We Want to Know, is a really mindblowing example of what learning games can and will be really capable of. It’s about relatively complex algebra. Especially if you have small children, give it a go. You will be amazed.

More to follow.

Lauri Jarvilehto Lauri is the CEO and Co-Founder of Lightneer

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