Amplify’s Lexica Combines Reading with Video Games

Video games and digital entertainment are preferred pastimes for kids and teens, often to the dismay of their teachers and parents. But as the movement to ‘gamify’ education grows, Amplify, a New York-based education start-up, hopes to harness the obsession with video games and channel it into a new appreciation for reading.

The first of the games to roll out will be Lexica, a role-playing game in which teens will interact with characters from classic novels, reports Greg Toppo of USA Today.

Lexica will be introduced as a part of a suite of language arts and math games at the annual Games For Change festival in New York. The game will inspire students to read books they are reading in class — or even out of class because it will help them advance quickly in the game. The more they know about the stories and characters, the better they will do in the game.

The game takes place in a secret library containing every book ever written. The library has special guardians that keep everyone out in order to keep the books safe. Since no one can read the books, the characters’ lives are threatened, and they respond by escaping the confines of their books to get help — and that’s where the player comes in.

Game designer Jesse Schell, who led development, says Lexica is trying to “inspire kids to pursue reading on their own and simultaneously to get them familiar with characters from classical literature.”

The game was designed around the motivational theories of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. The game doesn’t measure how smart or talented the players are, but instead it measures how hard they work. Players are rewarded when they complete a quest.

Amplify hopes to get students playing the game starting in 7th grade through 9th. They can play new episodes and quests that correspond with the material they are learning in class.

Mindful of the ways in which school can spoil the magic of both games and reading, they’re actually discouraging teachers from assigning the game — or the books — directly.

“We’re not designing homework here,” says Amplify CEO Joel Klein, a former New York City Schools chancellor. “These games will improve learning not because kids have to play them for school, but because they want to play them in their own free time.”

It’s not required that kids read the books to continue in the game, but developers hope it gets them excited to read.

The game is not meant to be a substitute for reading and, in fact, works the opposite way: knowing the book will help players in the game, but the game cannot take the place of reading the book.

“The main educational goal is to get kids to be doing more reading of an ambitious sort outside the classroom. Kids today probably read more words than ever before, but they’re tweets or text messages from each other. This is to try to get them to do something which they’re not doing as part of their daily habits, which is reading books of a reasonably ambitious sort.”

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