"Do you ever feel like what we are doing is too much like pornography?"
With this introduction, game industry grandee Trip Hawkins began an eclectic and ranging DICE speech on the potential of educational games to improve the lives of students. His point, eventually located, was that many parents and teachers view games with hostility and suspicion, even though games have the potential to teach way more effectively than outdated didactic methods.
Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts, said that the game industry has a bad reputation, because it creates educationally empty experiences that divert kids' attention away from education. "It's a battlefield," he said, between children and adults.
"This is why we're being perceived as a social ill. Children's attention is on [cellphones] and they want to play games. The parents and the teachers believe that the games have no use in real life. They are fed up with seeing angry birds being launched."
Hawkins, whose previous company was mobile games outfit Digital Chocolate, took a short anecdotal detour to note various alleged similarities between Rovio's Angry Birds and one of his own earlier games, Crazy Penguin Catapult, adding that Rovio was launched by former employees of Digital Chocolate.
Back on track, he said the game industry needs to get through its negative image and create games that tick the relevant boxes for both kids and for parents; games that are fun, that hit curricula criteria, and that are measurable as educationally useful.
His company, If You Can, is launching a game called If, (pictured) that seeks to teach emotional intelligence to youngsters. He compared its development to his own revolutionary creation of the first Madden game, which was launched to fulfill a market need, and relied on the input of experts like John Madden, and data, like sports stats.
"Developers have to give up a little bit of creative control," he explained. "Just like with Madden, we had to conform to the NFL's rules and to bring in experts." He is following the same strategy with If, which is based on the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling, relying on the input of educational experts and teachers.
Hawkins believes that education is a "sweet spot" for game developers who are able to move on from "making the games they want to play," and embrace the needs of educators and parents.