June 2016

Let's Be Serious About Play For A Second

written by
Loïc De Waele
Chief Science Officer @ DXTR Labs

"How's your toy company doing?"

Our team members are often asked this by family and friends, which luckily is a progress from “Won't you please do something normal with your life!?” but still it bugs us a bit.

When does a toy become more than a toy?

When reflecting upon these sort of questions, we have to ask ourselves; Is it actually a toy we’re developing? When fun and learning are intertwined, it can be difficult to answer this question. So let’s discuss this a bit through the example of serious games.

Even though we’re developing a toy, we do not identify ourselves as a toy company. We are trying to create a playful experience that is not only rich and educating for the child playing, but also an experience that is insightful and valuable for all of the people around the child. We are serious about play, and that’s why DXTR is serious gaming.

Girls building a tea table and having a tea party during on of our workshops with the International School in Odense

Let's look at the facts

Serious gaming exists for science, education, politics, management and basically anything you can think of. But what is Serious Gaming? One of the definitions of serious gaming is: “Games that don’t have entertainment/fun as primary purpose”. A very famous and powerful example of serious gaming in science is Foldit, a game where players fold proteins in realistic ways.

In 2011, Foldit players helped decipher the structure of an AIDS-causing monkey virus, a scientific problem that had been unsolved for 15 years. The players produced an accurate 3D model of the enzyme in just ten days! This is one of the coolest examples of how Serious Gaming managed to bring a real problem to its knees by adding a layer of gamification to it.

It is often the media that transform what science finds as a possibility into a sensational certainty.

Solve Puzzles for Science. Foldit is a wonderful example of serious gaming can solve global problems. Have you tried it? Image © of the Foldit Project

What's so special about DXTR?

However, we have a slightly different perspective on serious gaming – one where fun and entertainment is actually the primary purpose but structured in a way that will generate learning as a natural byproduct. People learn when playing. Whether the game was purposed for learning or not, even when it doesn’t have any purpose at all, we learn stuff when we play.

So even though we don’t feel like we fit in the definition of serious gaming, we still consider ourselves as one, because the outcome of DXTR will be more than just fun – children will learn.

But wait a minute, if all games will teach children something, what’s so special about DXTR? We’re different because we’re able to identify, measure and quantify what is learned. This allows us to foster what is learned through the play sessions and to carefully adapt them to each individual child to optimise the “by-product” – learning.

More than just fun

Of course, we have more in mind than just “fun” when designing DXTR. Education is one of our purposes, but we think it will naturally emerge from games that are highly adapted to each individual child. Additionally, we want to enable those that wish to follow the cognitive development of their children by identifying and measuring what they learn while playing.

Capturing the cognitive development generates information on child development. Through the mass use of DXTR all over the world, we would be able to gather unprecedented data on physical play that could prove essential for scientists to learn more about cognitive development. We’re hoping this data will be useful to help those children that deviate from what is considered a “normal” development by today’s standards.

So are we developing a toy?

Well obviously yes since it is meant for children to have fun with! But at the same time, we’re doing more. We’re developing a product that allows making the most out of play’s by-product: natural learning!

Loïc De Waele

Loïc is the neuroscience guy. His huge interest in brains originates from him missing one. Having studied neuropsychology, he is always making sure everything we do is good for your brain.

Spending his time pondering the big questions of how to combine cutting-edge neuroscience with play, in a way that yields unprecedented insights.

Secret power: Dares to have an unfunny joke in his short description.


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