The 10 Weirdest Educational Video Games
President Obama has been historically a bit down on video games, readily associating them with bad parenting. In spit of this, Joystiq reports today that Obama’s fiscal commission has been communicating with Microsoft about creating a budget balancing game.
That is: Not a game that would teach people to balance their own budgets, but a game that would let others attempt to balance the federal budget, to promote public awareness of how difficult it is. Commission co-chair Erskine Bowles said: “What you could get is support among the populace for the exceptionally unpopular things you need to do to solve this problem… [the game could] go viral.”
Joystiq points out that it wouldn’t be the first game built around balancing the United States federal budget, nor would it be the first game that tried to educate you about something decidedly un-game-like. We list ten of the best, worst, and weirdest, after the jump. Some of them you can even play in your browser: like, right now!
1. Budget Hero
Budget Hero was created by Marketplace, American Public Media‘s financial segment. Its numbers are grounded in reports from the Congressional Budget Office, so you can really feel the futility as your proposed budget still leads to massive debt a few years after you implement it. You can play it here.
2. The Typing of the Dead
The unfortunate brainchild of some ill-starred Sega executive, Typing of the Dead is a modification of classic rail shooter House of the Dead 2 where, instead of blasting apart zombies with high-powered firearms, the player…types simple phrases at them. The truly amazing thing is that this wasn’t limited to a sad, Best-Buy-jewel-case-bargain-bin-style PC release; it debuted as an actual arcade cabinet, with two QWERTY keyboards in place of light guns.
To the best of our knowledge, Area 51, Time Crisis, Virtua Cop, and Silent Scope have been spared the same treatment.
3. Sex Squad
We’ve previously written about the oddity that is Sex Squad, a publicly financed Canadian game that attempts to teach youths about sexually transmitted infections by having them fight a wrestler with penises for hands, who shoots sperm at them if they incorrectly answer multiple-choice questions. If that description whetted your appetite for knowledge, you can play it at the Middlesex-London Health Unit’s website.
4. The Budget Maze
The Budget Maze has a slightly different focus than the Budget Hero, which is to say it’s just about the New York City budget, and takes place in a library full of chests full of gold, and zombiefied committee members. You can play it here.
5. The Redistricting Game
The Redistricting Game would like to teach you about how important congressional redistricting is, by asking you to rig an election. Against all our expectations, its actually kind of addictive. You can try it yourself here.
6. Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon
Talk about misleading names and title screens: While you’ll be forgiven for thinking that Rex Ronan is about a no-nonsense space doctor, the game is actually a dire, Osmosis Jones-style warning about the dangers of cigarettes.
Wikipedia‘s gloomy synopsis of the Super Nintendo game, which of course involves robots:
The player goes inside a man (named Jake Westboro); he is dying of lung cancer while undergoing emergency surgery. He has a wife, a kid, a house in the suburbs, and a job with the Blackburn Tobacco Company that he had since he was 15 years old. Now the man is dying from the cigarettes that he once sold; the player must go inside of his body and defeat the evil tar and nicotine that is preventing the man from speaking to the world about the hazards of tobacco. If the player dies from the robots sent by the tobacco company, so does the patient.
7. Do I Have a Right?
In Do I Have a Right?, created by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor‘s pro-civics education organization Our Courts, the player runs a law firm that specializes in defending civil rights cases. Unlike most law games, however, the focus is completely on the office end of the trial: picking and choosing which issues are worth representing are the crux of the game, and it’ll certainly get you to remember which amendment is which. Play it here.
8. Captain Novolin
In the “Good ideas, poor execution” department: SNES game Captain Novolin tasked itself with educating children with diabetes about how to treat their condition. So far, so good: But Captain Novolin attempted to do this with a clunky side-scrolling platform game that involved jumping over lots of enemies, with levels punctuated by (of course) multiple-choice questions administered by a cheery nurse who may or may not have been a figment of Captain N’s imagination.
9. The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis
The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis is a kids logic game from the mid-90’s that is actually Susana’s favorite educational game ever. Take that, Oregon Trail! I don’t keep your CD right next to The Orange Box! Covering logic, graphing, and even some set theory in a charmingly rendered fantasy setting, the game could be, at times, utterly surreal. Most of the surreality, we admit, was created by the voice of the narrator. We don’t know what you were on when you recorded your dialogue, sir, but our childhood was undeniably enriched by it. You can get a taste of the narrator’s talents and of the great music from the game’s intro movie.
10. Wally Bear and the NO! Gang
Kids have a way of immunizing themselves to anti-drug messages as it is, but putting them in the hands of a sunglass-wearing, skateboarding bear whose enemies were cute drug-dealing animals may have just been asking for it. Wally Bear and the NO! Gang was a Nintendo platformer about said bear that even had an associated hotline which was up and running twenty-five years after the game’s release in 1982; when it was shut down in 2007, it was truly the end of an era.
Andrew Cedotal contributed Typing of the Dead-related reporting.