A Cultural History of Children's Software
How the influential industry that produced such popular games as Oregon Trail and KidPix emerged from experimental efforts to use computers as tools in child-centered learning.
Today, computers are part of kids' everyday lives, used both for play and for learning. We envy children's natural affinity for computers, the ease with which they click in and out of digital worlds. Thirty years ago, however, the computer belonged almost exclusively to business, the military, and academia. In Engineering Play, Mizuko Ito describes the transformation of the computer from a tool associated with adults and work to one linked to children, learning, and play. Ito gives an account of a pivotal period in the 1980s and 1990s, which saw the rise of a new category of consumer software designed specifically for elementary school-aged children. “Edutainment” software sought to blend various educational philosophies with interactive gaming and entertainment, and included such titles as Number Munchers, Oregon Trail, KidPix, and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?.
The children's software boom (and the bust that followed), says Ito, can be seen as a microcosm of the negotiations surrounding new technology, children, and education. The story she tells is both a testimonial to the transformative power of innovation and a cautionary tale about its limitations.
Hardcover$6.75 S ISBN: 9780262013352 248 pp. | 9 in x 6 in 34 figures
Paperback$13.95 S ISBN: 9780262517386 248 pp. | 9 in x 6 in 34 figures
Engineering Play offers a much-needed historical view on the emerging field and industry of games for learning. In it, Ito achieves a rare balance between rich ethnographic detail of the microdynamics of learning through gameplay, and penetrative insight into the macrodynamics of the various (and contesting) social discourses and institutions at play around technology and childhood. It is a much needed and very timely contribution to the field. Highly recommended reading for anyone who is serious about interactive technologies.
Department of Curriculum and Instruction, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Mimi Ito's Engineering Play explicates the crucial—and until now little discussed—historical, institutional, and cultural contexts for the now pervasive controversies over video games and learning in and out of school. The book is essential reading and a major contribution.
James Paul Gee
Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies, Arizona State University