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GDC 2009: Hits And Misses Of An Educational Game

Via: Game Developer Conference 2009 - Serious Games Summit Track

SGS Session: Cosmos Chaos! TM - Where Gaming Meets Education and Doesn't Die

Speaker: Meagan Rothschild (Specialist, Instructional Design, JUMP, Pacific Resources for Education & Learning (PREL)

This case study focuses on the production process and hurdles that a first time team of developers had to overcome in order to put educational and gaming theory into practice. Cosmos Chaos! TM is a vocabulary game developed for the Nintendo DS platform and is funded under a U.S. Department of Education Star Schools grant.

This game, intended for struggling 4th grade readers, completed development in October 2008. Including a 12 month pre-production process, Cosmos Chaos! TM was completed in less than 36 months, against the odds of an inexperienced but spirited team.

Developing the game is not enough, it has to be played and it has to have results. Formal evaluation is ongoing in thirty schools with over 300 children playing the game. Preliminary results from the evaluation will be available in March 2009.

From selecting specific content to finding a publisher, and with oodles of partnerships and culture clashes in between, this presentation will provide an informative recount of the hits and misses in the creation of an educational game.

The Project Background

Funded by a Star Schools grant from the US Department of Education (U.S. ED), Office of Innovation and Improvement, Cosmos Chaos! TM is the result of efforts that focused on the development, delivery, and evaluation of a supplemental vocabulary instruction for the Nintendo DS.

The primary objectives were as follows:

  1. Develop a research-based, content-situated vocabulary curriculum to be delivered on a handheld device to 4th grade students
  2. Establish the effectiveness of a game-based vocabulary curriculum
  3. Disseminate the information on learning in game-based environments delivered on handheld devices
  4. The team assembled talented people, some of whom had worked for Konami, Nickelodeon and Foundation 9 Entertainment, along with respected experts in the area like James Paul Gee (Arizona State University and Michael Kamil (Stanford University).


Cosmos Chaos! TM is an educational role-playing adventure on the Nintendo DS.

The game targets the “4th grade slump”, a well-documented drop-off in standardized test scores that occurs as students encounter more difficult texts when “reading to learn as opposed to learning to read”.

The team felt the game had a great opportunity to be more effective on the Nintendo DS platform for the following reasons:

  1. Kids carry the Nintendo DS anywhere
  2. The gaming unit can withstand the 4th grade lifestyle
  3. The price is significantly lower than a computer
  4. Over 16 million units have already been sold in the US
Cosmos Chaos! TM aims to teach and assess word learning strategies and several hundred vocabulary words through an innovative mix of teaching methods, storytelling and gameplay.

The game helps 4th grade readers understand vocabulary while exploring diverse environments, overcoming challenges, completing quests and solving puzzles.

While playing, participants learn new skills by collecting words, understanding their meanings, and using them to solve problems.

Two games, with five levels each, teach 450 words in the math, science and social studies content areas.