I still remember the first video game system we had as a family. I was eleven. My five-year-old brother was in the hospital for the big whammy of little kid ear/nose/throat procedures: tubes were put in his ears, and he had both his adenoids and tonsils removed. My grandparents gifted him with an original Nintendo system, complete with Mario Bros (1, of course) and Duck Hunt. And while the console was technically his, I played with it way more often than not. As the years went on, we added more games to our repertoire, and saw our gaming move to the desktop computer with Prince of Persia which I played all throughout high school. The games I remember playing with mostly simple objective ones, graphically “meh” (in retrospect), and not all that violent.
Now, with a son on the brink of 8-years-old, I’m much more aware of the variety of digital games, and to be honest, many leave me feeling pretty bad. Violence, racism and sexism run rampant, and not just in games targeted at adults (as if that’s any better). At the same time, I am more than aware that my son will not play anything that is deemed too “babyish.” If my son is going to play video games, I want to find a middle ground between obviously wholesome and blood, guts & boobs. So, when I got the opportunity to test out and review a new game aimed at kids 8-14, I jumped at it. Quandary is a new (free!) game that was developed by a team of experts, including scholars from Harvard and Tufts University and designers from the MIT Education Arcade and the Learning Games Network. Quandary is all about ethical decision-making without telling players what to think. And it was this that drew both me and the kiddo in.
When I told my son I had an assignment and part of it involved playing a video game, he was in, no questions asked.
Together, we delved into the world of Quandary and we both liked what we saw. The game is set in the future, when we’ve ostensibly colonized other planets. You get to choose which captain you want to be, and I love that my son wanted to play one round as the male captain and the next as the female one.
And, right off the bat, I was hooked. Diversity in characters! There was a great mix between men and women and the characters were racially diverse as well. +1,000 points to Quandary.
There are a few different episodes to play, and each one can be played in different ways (and over and over again) based on the decisions that you made. I wasn’t sure how into the whole “ethical decision making” process my son would be, to be quite honest, but it was neat to watch him really contemplate the consequences of his decisions. For instance, when we played the “Water War” episode, and needed to figure out how to get the colony fresh, clean water, he theorized that while it would probably be easiest to just take water from the one private well that was safe, it wasn’t a good choice, because it wasn’t fair to the owner of the well. He really chewed on a few of the options, and it was neat to see his thought process play out like that.
And for me, this was a big plus to the game. It teaches ethical and complex decision making skills without being too overt about it. If my son is going to play video games, might as well have one that is getting him to think critically and carefully. Another great aspect for my emerging reader is that the comic-stylized speech bubbles that help move the story along can either be read to yourself or vocalized by each character by clicking on them. He occasionally read some, frequently listened to some, and often would listen first and then go back to read for himself.
I will say, though, that sometimes when I felt the game was going slow for me, it was the perfect speed for the kiddo. And the points system (you earn points for making decisions based on the information you gather and process) definitely helped to keep him engaged. While I don’t see Quandary taking over all of the kiddo’s allotted video time, I certainly see it making its way into his rotation, and I’m happy he’ll have another option to engage in beyond the racing and ninja games he usually plays. While I don’t think the face of gaming is going to be changing any time soon, I’m beyond appreciative for games like Quandary doing their part to infuse some educational aspects into gaming, while still being engaging and fun. And, I have a feeling my son appreciates that as well.
This is a sponsored post in conjunction with Quandary & The Mission List. All opinions are my own.