Bye-Bye, Oregon Trail: Feds Spend $1.5M On High-Tech Video Games

Brittany M. Hughes | March 15, 2017
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Long gone are the days of The Oregon Trail, the awesomely glitchy computer game sixth-graders used to enjoy by the light of their 1992 Macintosh processor – that is, until all your oxen drowned and your eight kids died of cholera.

Rough times.

Today, the federal government is spending about $1.5 million in taxpayer cash for the development of two pricey, high-tech video games, both aimed at steering school-age kids toward STEM careers.

The first game, currently being developed to the tune of $728k in National Science Foundation grants, will provide middle school students with an interactive way to learn about photosynthesis, a concept the grant description claims is “largely invisible, comprised of a complex and interdependent set of interactions, and difficult to teach.”

(For any old-schoolers out there who still think teachers should be able to…well, teach photosynthesis, here’s a reminder that New York faculty aren't even required to have reading skills.)

Developed by Andamio Games and funded by American taxpayers, the video game will simulate a “virtual lab environment” to “provide teachers with an instructional tool that conveys accurate details of chemically-based biological processes, enable them to deliver differentiated instruction to their classes, and ensure that all their students, whatever their level of pre-existing knowledge and ability, are able to meet the prescribed national and state-level life science standards.”

The second video game, which received $747k in grant dollars, will allegedly help students choose a career in the sciences or math, as well as “improve students' attitudes toward full-time employment.”

“Unfortunately, the lack of an accessible, coherent career planning system in the United States has left many high school students unprepared to meet the rigorous demands associated with being college and career ready,” the grant description explains. In response, the game will provide students with a “virtual mentor” to will help explain STEM career options to students and walk them through different job options.

The Language Express, the company developing the game, says the project is aimed at helping students with disabilities, but could be used by all students in grades 6-9. The company also assures us that their game "aligns with Common Core Standards and the Universal Design for Learning framework" (likely meaning students will emerge ready and able to solve word salad math problems about the economic benefits of socialism).

It was much simpler when your wagon just broke an axle.