Ever since games have existed there have been a group of adults trying to coerce kids into learning from them. This attempt to make learning fun, while well-intended, is often met with copious amounts of eye-rolling from actual kids. Such was the basis for my trepidation when Immersed Games reached out to me about their new learning game, Tyto Online.
Striving to be the World of Warcraft of learning games, complete with an online virtual world, Tyto Online first caught our attention during its 2014 Kickstarter Campaign. Immersed Games was able to raise $50,617 with their promise of quest-based learning.
Rather than bombarding kids with random facts or rote memorization, Tyto Online just gives them story-based quests and missions. If those quests happen to be based on learning objectives and require critical thinking and problem-solving to complete, well no reason to ruin the fun by mentioning it.
The game recently released on Steam Early Access and Immersed Games sent me a code to try it out. Now, for perspective, I am a gamer, but also a mom. My son is 8, and while a good student he’s not what you’d call a “gifted” student. He has trouble reading and will often ignore on-screen text in favor of running around like a spaz in open worlds.
As such, while my mom side was pleased with the premise of Tyto Online, I was still a bit skeptical about how well the game would be received by someone like my son. A kid who isn’t going to go out of their way to learn when they can just goof off. Clearly the only option was to hand the keyboard over and see what happened.
Parental Backseat Gaming
The game begins with the player’s arrival on the planet Ovo. As a recent evacuee from the now uninhabitable earth, they are here to study at Tyto Academy. After character creation and a brief tutorial the player is let loose in their new world. Feeling a bit like a scientist myself, I sat back with a notepad to see what my kiddo would make of this. In short, he was delighted.
He immediately claimed his player house and got to work decorating it. Realizing his current decor options were quite limited, he took a mission to earn more money. His first task? Poop collection. For those of you not lucky enough to have an 8-year-old boy of your own, let me assure you, poop is hilarious.
From there he had to track down the animals who’d left the poop and analyze their DNA. The quest concluded with him creating a flow chart of the local food-chain. Then he dashed back to the store and got a sweet new lamp for his room.
And Now For Something Completely Different
To be fair he didn’t stay on task for too long. The 3D world is large and colorful. Naturally, he needed to explore every inch of it as quickly as possible. This involved climbing on everything he could and surveying his new territory.
Eventually, someone posted in global chat and he excitedly tried to engage them in conversation, despite his usual trepidation towards spelling. Seeing him that excited to try to figure out how to type something was kind of amazing. I’m fairly certain he’d communicate entirely in grunts and hand-gestures if we allowed it. Therein lies Tyto Online’s true appeal, it is first and foremost a MMORPG.
My son wasn’t playing to try to learn about ecology or practice his reading and writing, he was playing because it was fun. The learning happened organically without interfering with what he wanted to do in the gameworld. This is no small accomplishment.
That said, Tyto Online is still very much an Early Access build. Some key presses are slow to respond making tools and abilities frustrating to use. Freezing and analyzing different animals for a quest had us both feeling a little confused and frustrated when the tools didn’t always respond.
Some of the story has voice-over narration, but not all. This can frustrate slow readers or even just those who are unfamiliar with more technical terms. Directions for completing a quest can be a bit obtuse at times. More than once we completed a mission through sheer luck and arbitrary clicking. Still, having played my share of Early Access titles, these hiccups are far from game-breaking.
Overall my son really seemed to enjoy his time with Tyto Online. He has graciously offered to help me with my work by playing more. I’m counting this as a glowing endorsement from the target market. All my interactions with the team at Immersed Games have left me thoroughly convinced that the game will continue to grow and improve leading up to its full release in summer of 2017. It might not be a game that kids ask for by name, but it will certainly be one they enjoy playing and learning from.