Does learning stop when you get older?
That would appear to be the case if this week’s Games for Change Festival in New York was any indication. I don’t write about education often, but the exposure to a range of developers eager to make games that effect change got me thinking about why so many of them were geared to kids.
Educational games are estimated to be an $8.4 billion market in the U.S. And at a high level, the industry seems to agree that educational titles are effectively complementing traditional classroom and book learnin’.
“We’ve moved beyond the notion that video games can be impactful in education, and on to the notion that they are,” Entertainment Software Association President Michael Gallagher said.
But in listening to developers and educators at the festival, I noticed a curious limit to the discussion: Educational games were almost always implied to be aimed at children.
“We’re trying to create situations where we’re stealing their video game time and turning it into reading time,” Schell Games CEO Jesse Schell said of Lexica, a tablet game aimed at introducing 6th-8th graders to famous literary works.
There were games represented at the festival that did aim to teach adults concepts that might matter in their adult lives. The most effective one for me was Parable of the Polygons, which smartly illustrated how small individual biases can, in aggregate, enable segregation.
But what about a straightforward lesson? You may want to learn to code, or take another crack at calculus, or figure out what happened in the Civil War, but you haven’t set foot in a school in ages. Sure, you can read a book or watch a college lecture online, but I’d wager most of the educational games you’ll find are clearly for the younger set, like Lexica:
Maybe marketing has a lot to do with the lack of appeal among adults. Nothing screams “Flee!” faster than slapping a loathsome buzzword like “edutainment” on such games.
Moreover, the popular perception that games remain child’s play has hampered development, even though, as several speakers reminded the festival audience, the average gamer is 35 years old. Just as an adult might not want to identify as a gamer even if she’s spent a hundred hours on Candy Crush Saga, the stigma around both wanting to learn and playing video games may be a double-whammy for some people.
The closest thing to what I’m imagining is probably Duolingo, a popular mobile app for learning new languages.
But that’s just one topic. If the gaming industry truly believes that its software can change our brains, and not just assuage parents who are anxious about their kids’ schoolwork, then there’s a huge untapped audience of adult dummies. Like me.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.