How can video games help to improve education? We spoke with Gonzalo Frasca, from Uruguay, new Chief Design Officer of video game development company WeWantToKnow, the creators of the award winning game DragonBox.
Gonzalo Frasca is a game designer, consultant and professor at Universidad ORT, but his passion for games (he worked with companies such as Disney, Pixar, Warner Bros and Cartoon Network) is not exhausted in playfulness. In addition to his outstanding academic work in the area, he has a special interest in education and learning (as demonstrated in his masters, for which he was nurtured by thinkers and educators like Augusto Boal and Paulo Freire).
Given his background, Frasca’s arrival to Norwegian studio WeWantToKnow seems natural, driver of one of the most innovative and successful video games of recent years: DragonBox designed for learning mathematics. With the challenge of “making games that achieve a real difference in education,” Frasca joins the company -led by the math teacher Jean-Baptiste Huynh- as Chief Design Officer.
But the title is not important, as Frasca said to Montevideo Portal, considering the collaborative work that characterizes one of the few studios that achieved real changes in education through games.
His “official” task is to oversee the game design in the company, but while the title means to add his experience to the company’s, he admits that he is prepared to “learn more from them.” “There is very little good educational software, I have plenty fingers left of both hands to count them. And the people who consistently makes amazing things are these guys,” he said.
While WeWantToKnow has a Norwegian origin and develops most of it games in Paris, Frasca will be working from Uruguay. The company has just released its third APP mathematics for the DragonBox series. The first, the best known, is DragonBox Algebra. “An independent study by the University of Washington shows that after an hour and a half of playing, over 90% of the kids learn to solve algebraic equations. It’s like magic, but it is really worthing trying the game,” narrated Frasca.
The Ceibal Plan + Video Games
Last May, the CEO of the company, Jean-Baptiste Huynh, visited Uruguay and got to know the system of the Ceibal Plan and test the game with school students. “The interesting thing about this site is that they are not only doing excellent educational video games but have a scientific and serious support,” the professor said.
“For a game studio that wants to test with thousands of children how they are learning and integrating that knowledge, the Ceibal Plan is the ideal place, and that’s part of the reason why I joined the team, to be here and work with the Ceibal” he added.
Frasca also mentions that the vast majority of games are for educational practice, which is not bad, but highlights that DragonBox achieved to “teach new things.” The last of the series, DragonBox Numbers, teaches much about number logic. “You see the tiny kids hooked in class and outside of class still playing ” said Frasca.
To Frasca, video games are still almost exclusively related to leisure and not greater consideration as educational tools, “it is not the fault of the people but of the designers.” . “If we do really good games that are enjoyable to learn with, people still see them as entertainment, so there is nothing wrong, but when you you learn by playing something funny happens. At school it works like this: I teach you something and then I test you. The experience of live testing is just the opposite. I first test you and from there you learn… the great game lets you do that, you don’t worry because you’re wrong and there is no frustration, as can happen in school “.
Such games also integrate teachers and parents, as the creators “think about the entire ecosystem of the use of the game,” said Frasca, something important in mathematics where “paternal and maternal fears are inherited.”
For the designer, WeWantToKnow quality standard is “off” from anything else I’ve seen. “Education is a multifaceted problem and you need to do many things right to make it work,” he said.