Usborne is famous world-wide for its utterly excellent childrens’ books. When they launched their charitable arm, The Usborne Foundation, it was natural that they wanted to focus on literacy as their main philanthropic effort. What was more unexpected was that they wanted to explore how games could contribute to solving a really fundamental social problem: many children get ‘lost’ at the very earliest stages of phonics teach, and never recover, which leads to serious literacy problems in later life, and research shows that these correlate powerfully with a wide range of social issues.
I had a chance to work with Usborne to help plan their first game project, and to help pull together the team of designers, developers, producers and artists behind the resulting game: Teach Your Monster To Read. It was a fascinating project, with some really low level design issues: how do you design an interface for totally pre-literate players? How do you design a mouse-and-keyboard game for children so young that all they’ve known is touch screens? How do you circumvent children’s talent for pattern-spotting and ensure their success is driving by learning and understanding, not mimicking and matching?
Teach Your Monster To Read is available for free online, and was warmly received by parents and schools. The next game in the series is already out, and smartphone/tablet iterations are planned for 2014.