“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down (in a most delightful way).”
How is it that ‘edutainment’ software developers have failed to grasp this most fundamental teaching of Mary Poppins? To my mind, it should be a legal requirement for all child educators to have watched Mary Poppins at least 17 times before attempting to teach anything to anyone. ‘Edutainers’ on the other hand, should be forced to watch it at least 47 times, preferably more, before they so much as touch a keyboard.
For those struggling with the metaphor, the sugar is ‘fun’, and the medicine is ‘stuff w0t u hav 2 do but dont rly want 2’. In an edutainment software context, the sugar would be ‘g00d g4m3pl4y’ and the medicine would be the ‘actual lernin’.
I can’t remember the last piece of edutainment software that I either a) enjoyed, or b) actually learned something from. That is to say that I’ve yet to encounter edutainment software that lives up to its name; edutainment that educates and/or entertains anyone.
The reasons behind this I’m actually quite cynical about. I believe that edutainment is inherently sinister, offering the illusion of sugar to deliver medicine that doesn’t even work; and that the mere appearance of ‘educational AND fun’ is all that is required to sell these pieces of crap to undiscerning parents.
Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon is one such piece of ‘edutainment’; and it’s a pity, because its title holds so much promise. The words ‘experimental surgeon’ evoke images of rat-pigeons, growing human ears on hamsters’ backs, freaks with legs for arms, and so on and so forth. The prologue – the game’s one and only shining moment – is fraught with intrigue and irony, building one man’s American Dream before dashing it to pieces like so much Dead Sea pottery.
Rex Ronan tells the tale of a tobacco salesman who had it all – a nice house, a hot car, a pretty wife and kids – but here’s the real kicker: he’s been smoking Big Tobacco products since the age of 15, and now he’s about to die from the very cigarettes he used to sell. But all is not lost! Accomplished microsurgeon Rex Ronan is on the case, shrinking himself to near-microscopic size to enter the body and save the life of Joe Tobacco Salesman. In true evil corporation style, Big Tobacco pre-emptively attack their former employee (on the off chance he survives, reforms, and joins the school talk circuit), introducing deadly nanobots to his immune system in an effort to kill him and his miniature M.D. Oh lordy!
From there, the whole experience devolves – you know, when the actual game starts – into glorified window-washing punctuated by school. No joke, Rex Ronan M.D. spends the course of the game scrubbing tar off some dude’s lungs, and when he’s not doing that, he’s fending off poorly mapped robot sprites, and fielding true-or-false questionnaires on the dangers of smoking from smart bombs that explode in your face if you get it wrong. Smart bombs. Haw haw; how clever.
Rex Ronan represents everything that is wrong with edutainment. No-one learns from teachers they can’t respect. If a game like Shadow of the Colossus told me not to smoke, I’d sure as hell sit up and listen, but this game makes me want to light one up if only to spite it.
SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: This Game Causes Cancer.