[Review] Scribblenauts

September 27, 2009 at 5:36 pm Leave a comment

Title: Scribblenauts
Media: Video Game (Nintendo DS)
Primary Subject: Creativity
Secondary Subject: Critical Thinking

Scribblenauts by 5th Cell for the Nintendo DS is an incredible learning toy. If thought of strictly as a game it falls short in many basic areas (control being number one) but that would completely overlook the incredible educational benefits it brings to the table. In short, Scribblenauts is a puzzle game where the player can use any object they can imagine to attempt to solve the puzzle. You simply type the word into the game and poof, the item appears ready to be used. No other game has done anything quite like this before and it is an incredible exercise in creativity.

The early puzzles of the game are very simple. In one you are in a desert with another man. The hint for level says “Refresh him.” That’s it. It doesn’t say “Give the man something to drink, you know like water or perhaps some milk.” So, you scramble your brain to think what could refresh a guy in the desert. Typing in water works. So does rain. Interestingly, so does coffee shop, which actually makes an entire coffee shop appear. Perhaps most amazingly typing in blizzard also works. “Refresh” apparently doesn’t just mean “give him a drink” but also possibly “cool him off.” (And on that note while typing I got the idea to try “fan” and yep, it worked too.)

The game challenges you to complete each stage 3 times with each new play requiring completely new words. This obviously encourages outside the box thinking. The puzzles get progressively more complicated and rarely are solved with only one item. Often you must spawn multiple items and get them to work together. For example, one on level you are tasked with retrieving candy for a little girl without harming the bully who is guarding it. I ended up handcuffing him to a magnet which then stuck him to the vending machine. He was locked in place and I could grab the candy without harassment. Amazing.

So, there’s definitely critical thinking going on here but could it be used in the classroom? Absolutely, read on!

Motivational Potential

I modified the game to be played in the classroom and tried it out last week. My class played only one level but they had a great time and came up with some incredible solutions. I broke the class into groups and we had a “Solutions Draft” to solve the puzzles. The puzzle we did was a mirror of level 1-1 of the game. That level has a police officer, a fireman, a doctor and a chef with the instructions “Give two of them what they’d need for their job.” I made a PowerPoint slide with the same set up except I wanted all 4 to be satisfied. Then, group by group, they drafted their items. If group one picked “gun” then no other group could. With 5 groups it quickly forced creativity. The goal ultimately was to solve the puzzle using as few items as possible or to do so in the most creative manner. Each group ended up with four items to solve it in this case as this puzzle doesn’t leave room for much overlap (though I suppose “dough” could satisfy the chef and the police officer…).

The kids couldn’t wait to play again and I’m just as excited to get them to do so. I really wish Nintendo would release a video hookup for the DS so I could put the game itself up full screen for everyone but so far no such luck. You might have luck using a document scanner however if you have a nice one in your room.

Educational Potential

Content-wise there really isn’t anything here. That said, I fully intend to create content-based puzzles to use in my classroom version of the game. Why not create a situation that shows a village with no water and give the instructions “Refresh them!”? I can limit the summoned objects to period specific ones and see if perhaps my students could imagine aqueducts in the same way the Romans did. I am very excited by the idea of presenting historical problems and giving students a chance to imagine a solution before sharing how it was solved historically.

Still, even if content played no role I think this game is perfectly educational as it stands. We do not do enough (any?) encouragement of creativity and critical thinking in school’s today. This game forces it! If you play for 30 minutes and don’t feel any smarter after you aren’t playing it right. I consider myself a pretty smart guy and yet when presented with a puzzle and a completely blank canvas I often can’t even think of where to start. It is those moments when our brains are most active. I feel that just by playing this game my brain is making new connections – it is growing. There is no better definition of educational.

Highly recommended product here. Thank you 5th Cell for building one of the most fun and educational learning devices I’ve ever seen. Is it a perfect game? Absolutely not? It is a perfect learning tool? It is pretty darn close. Give it some time and I think you’ll find you want to fit it into your classroom somehow.


Entry filed under: Video Games.

[RESOURCE] SimpsonsMath.com [Review] Assassin’s Creed 2

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