MEDEA Finalist 2010
Monkey Labs, an educational video game, was developed in 2009 by game studio Larian Studios and educational book publisher die Keure (Belgium). The first in the Monkey Tales series, it's a 3D videogame in which students have to solve various mathematics challenges. Following an intriguing narrative in which the player enters the subterranean laboratory of Monkey Labs by accident, the student/player sees a seemingly abandoned research complex and it is up to the player to unveil the mysteries within, and save the monkeys and scientists that are locked up inside this place of surprises and plot-twists.
The showcase video of Monkey Labs, including an interview with Vicky Vermeulen & Swen Vincke
Players have to win educational mini-games and compete with in-game characters to get ahead in the game and discover more about the background story through meeting with new characters and collecting information. Featuring puzzle elements is the fun and immersive nature of the game with game objects such as crates, moving platforms, lasers, magnets, mirrors, switches and buttons, the rooms are set up as environmental puzzles challenging the player, and rather than being faced with dull maths exercises: the player is steering a rocket ship by solving equations, getting students excited about mathematics and learning without even knowing it.
What the judges said about this entry
The judges described how in this entry the culture of gaming among potential users is exploited in a fun and challenging way with a maths game that is almost addictive and which finds the right balance between fun and learning. They felt that that the type of imagery and animation used in the games is particularly appealing to target users and they really appreciated how the learner/player was guided into doing exercises in a very inconspicuous and unobtrusive manner which is completely different from classical math drills.
The jury noted that these high-quality math games can be adapted to the level of the player which makes it possible to win while at the same time still allowing for further levels of personal improvement. Once installed, they found that the game was really easy to use and good fun and that all the elements required for a successful pedagogical trajectory are included: close connection to the curriculum, attractive features that allow you to have fun while still learning as well as the opportunity to have feedback as you progress. Monkey Labs is an excellent example of a high end edutainment tool in a new pedagogic space that involves the intersection of digital media, sound pedagogic and instructional design principles and game development.
About the creation of Monkey Labs
Mr Swen Vincke, founder of Larian Studios and Ms Vicky Vermeulen, project leader at die Keure Educatief explain further: “video games are a big part of the cultural interest of our children. It provides a different way for teachers to teach certain maths skills and the students have fun while playing and learning. One of the unique things about Monkey Labs is that it’s been constructed specifically to accompany classic textbooks although the game is highly customizable, allowing it to be easily adapted to courses for students between 7 and 14.
Monkey Labs I is distributed (freely) with math textbooks VBTL in Belgium, and the game is divided into chapters that coincide with the textbook’s chapters (and therfore the maths curriculum as prescribed by the Belgian government). Currently, the exercises and difficulty level of each mini-game are specifically tailored to this textbook, but can be easily customised to other courses. Teachers can decide which part needs to be practised or students can play at their own tempo, while the game also adapts the difficulty of the exercises to the level of the player with all the advantages of adaptive learning.
Unlike many edutainment games, the production values of Monkey Labs are the same as those applied to commercial “real” games, making it very appealing. Up to now Monkey Labs has been distributed on CD-roms (at a later stage it will be available online), students can play the game at school, in the classroom or at home during the year. It is also fun for children who don't have maths courses that use our textbooks, as we noticed that children who installed the game at home, played it with brothers and sisters during the school year.”
About Swen Vincke and Vicky Vermeulen
Swen has been in the games industry since 1997, handling multiple roles as he founded Larian Studios. He was the lead software engineer/designer on all of Larian Studios projects up until 2005. His most important credits as a software engineer include the multiple awardwinning Divine Divinity (2002), Beyond Divinity (2004), The Led Wars (1997) as well as a series of other games (12 of them).
In addition to also designing all of the previous games, he designed KetnetKick, the world’s first online creative community for broadcasters which broke all kinds of records in Belgium (VRT, Belgian national broadcaster) and received the kids awards for best game twice (2004, 2005). KetnetKick has since been licensed by the BBC (UK national broadcaster) under the name Adventure Rock, NRK (Norwegian national broadcaster) and one of the biggest French national broadcasters. Since 2005 he’s more focused on managing his teams which consist of 40 people and being responsible for business development at Larian Studios. He is actively involved in the design of all of Larian’s projects including the critically acclaimed Divinity II: Ego Draconis and the innovative Monkey Labs.
He has published several articles in Game developers magazine, speaks at various game developer conferences, regularly gives seminars and has been responsible for several research projects, both national and international, with both academic and industrial partners.
Swen represented this entry at the MEDEA Awards Ceremony and talked about it in further detail during a presentation at the Media & Learning Conference 2010 Brussels.
Vicky graduated as an Industrial Engineer specialised in Electronics Design in 2003 at Hogeschool Gent. During the next four years she was a teacher of mathematics to 15-18 years old students in several secondary schools in the Ghent area.
In 2007 she started working at the publishing house die Keure Educatief as an editor, where she was responsible for the fund mathematics and sciences. Die Keure Educatief has almost 50 years experience in developing educational books for children in nursery schools, elementary schools, secondary schools and for adults in adult education. Vicky was the project leader at die Keure during the creation and production of Monkey Labs. She made sure that the implementation of the maths exercises followed the books and the curriculum and supported the design of the smart maths generator device in the game.
In recent years more and more possibilities of ICT applications are discovered and applied to all parts of society, including education. That’s why Vicky took the opportunity to start working for the new ICT department at die Keure as project manager. She is now responsible for several e-learning and ICT projects, including the sequels MonkeyTales games. She also gives training in schools and on seminars about integrating e-learning in the classroom.