Typing Games: how and why?

The educational stigma

Since we’re talking about games that focus solely on typing, you might be thinking of an educational game you had to play at school to learn how to type. Mavis Beacon teaches typing, to name the most popular one, is a training software that also contains mini games. It has seen many iterations, from its original MS-DOS version (1987) to the current Steam version (2020), and many North Americans have memories of learning typing at school using it. While presenting Epistory and Nanotale at game conventions, we noticed cultural differences in the perception of typing games. Europeans tend to say “ah, it’s a typing game” with disappointment or disdain, while Americans and Japanese are more enthusiastic and curious about how it works. In Japan, home of the arcade machine The Typing of the Dead (1999), players don’t seem to have bad memories of edutainment typing. In the United States, a typing game is regarded as educational (the go-to reference being Mavis Beacon), but not necessarily “not fun”. Once again, this is only based on our interactions with players at conventions, so take it with a grain of salt.

To be fair, it’s true that almost all the old typing games are educational games. For Diego Sacchetti, “typing games are always labeled as educational, moreover typing games are always measured against their educational value in order to tell if the game is good or not.” Are you familiar with Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure (2011), which was sold with a bluetooth keyboard for Nintendo DS? It was marketed as “a typing action game for all skill levels to increase your speed and accuracy”. It’s hard to picture a fun game when you hear “typing”, which is perceived more like a constraint than an opportunity for new experiences.

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But modern typing game developers try to stay away from the “educational” branding because of its stigma. We want players to be open-minded to the new experience we try to create, and “teaching” is not the right framing at all. It may even turn players away because most of them believe that they are not good at typing and assume that a typing game is not for them. Diego Sacchetti thinks that “people should stop framing typing as an educational-only mechanic. Typing is a beautiful way to play with a controller full of buttons (your keyboard), and the relationships among the buttons also provides meaning.”

The other reason is to not give the wrong idea: our typing games don’t teach typing like Mavis Beacon. For Sophie Schiaratura (public relations and marketing on Epistory and Nanotale at Fishing Cactus), if you don’t already know how to type, you’re lost and not having fun. “Some players complain about it, saying that it’s a bad educational game, even though that’s not our goal and we’ve never communicated this. When parents want to know if their kids can learn typing with our game, we tell them that you can improve by playing but in no way learn.” Malte Hoffmann says the same thing: “You can improve your typing skills by playing the game, but it won’t teach you where to put your fingers”.

This is where the relationship with the educational aspect is a bit ambiguous. When defining the typing genre, I said that challenging typing meant players would improve that skill by playing. And all the typing game developers I’ve talked to said they improved their typing speed. For Hugo Bourbon (game designer on Outshine at Fishing Cactus), if educational means learning skills or knowledge, then “a game that pushes the player to improve their typing accuracy and speed is educational.” But he still doesn’t like to use the word educational whose “meaning is related to children’s development and can be misinterpreted by buyers.” Diego Sacchetti concludes: “In the end, Textorcist will definitely make players better at something. Many players report that by the end of the game they can blindtype. This cannot be avoided and also makes me happy. I think the emphasis on the educational part only emerges because typing is a skill needed everyday outside of the magic circle of a game. If emails had to be written like playing doom, FPS would probably be framed as an educational mechanic too.” So, yes, you may improve a useful skill, but that’s true for other genres as well and it does not justify the educational label, nor the negative connotation that comes with it.

Players tend to think of typing games as edutainment.
When presenting or marketing your typing game, think about how it can be interpreted as educational (catchphrases like “use your typing skills”, “get better during your adventure”, “learn new abilities”…) to avoid being dismissed as “not a real game”.
Be ready to answer the “educational” question from players and journalists.


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