Science Museum's Futurecade
Science Museum's Futurecade

Recently, as part of its Talk Science initiative, the Science Museum launched a suite of four online games aimed at teenagers, called Futurecade (the name is a contraction of ‘future’ and ‘arcade’). There are four games, each one based on an aspect of science/technology that is shaping or could shape our future. The Science Museum’s own teacher briefing notes give some of the background and rationale for the games – but there’s nothing like having a go yourself.

I’d be really interested to hear what people think about the value of these games in informal science education, since the views I have seen expressed seem to be very divided. The Guardian reported on the launch of Futurecade, and the comments range from outright derision to glowing support. Likewise, the comments on the review by PC gaming site Rock, Paper, Shotgun are equally divided (although most are about the games’ quality rather than their educational value).

In any ‘edutainment‘ venture, it is tricky to get the balance right between educational value and entertainment value. Education has to be the main aim – otherwise why not just entertain? But ‘too educational’ and an activity risks being worthy, in which case perhaps no one will want to engage with it; ‘not educational enough’ and the educational value may become as diluted as the molecules in a homeopathic remedy.

My favourite game on the site, Space Junker.
My favourite game on the site, Space Junker - reminded me of Asteroids.

In the case of Futurecade, I’m not quite sure. I don’t agree with some reviews I have seen, which suggest that, for example, this is “not in the leastwise an educational game”. There are clear links to the relevant science/technology and good backup resources. I am more inclined to agree with another reviewer, a working teacher who has used the games with a class of year 10 pupils: the reviewer had on his/her hands an “engaged group who were thinking about the impact of science in their life”. That has to be a good thing.

I think there is a chance these games will give some young people pause for thought, and some may go on to learn something. The educational content is fairly clearly signposted, though not particularly ‘accurately’ portrayed in the game – not that I think it necessarily it should be. Some people will think this is the sort of thing the Science Museum should definitely not be doing, others will think that, with their credibility and their huge audience, it is exactly the kind of organisation that should be doing something like this.

I enjoyed playing the games on Futurecade, and I think this could be a good, thought-provoking way to engage young people in science and technology. How about you?

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