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educational video games
Credit: Nichole Dobo

I peered between the bones of an allosaurus to catch a glimpse of Uma Thurman on a small stage in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Young children lounged on tiny bean bag chairs and listened as the award-winning actress read a book from a tablet computer. Waiters offered cocktails to parents and chicken cut in the shape of prehistoric animals to children. Earlier in the night, a paparazzi line had sprung into action near the entrance when two actors from the hit series Orange is the New Black arrived.

This was the unusual backdrop for the national launch of two new educational games developed by Kuato Studios. And that’s how parents, children, celebrities and ed tech developers found themselves mingling in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, under dinosaur bones illuminated with candy-colored lights, as the star from a movie named Kill Bill read a digital children’s book about dinosaurs.

It would be easy to shrug off the event as a silly ploy to attract attention. It’s a natural conclusion when so much of the Internet appears to be stuffed with interesting, but unsatisfying, click-bait. But if we look closer, we might see the serious lesson hidden in all this fun at the museum. Thurman was modeling how the games’ developers hope parents will use these interactive, tablet-based tools for learning. The games and corresponding digital books are enhanced significantly by human beings, providing an emotional connection no computer can replicate.

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Kuato Studios is known among developers for saying that educational games ought to be just as engaging as the not-so-educational video games. The digital games they unveiled last week — Dino Tales and Safari Tales – were designed to develop both literacy and problem-solving skills. The company’s leaders told me last week in an interview at the event that children and teachers are the most important test audiences. The company has also partnered with Reading Is Fundamental, a national nonprofit organization, to promote access to digital (and print) books.

Will it work? It’s too soon to say. But I do know this: Seven-year-old Kamila Vatisda was entranced by the game for more than 30 minutes. I chatted with her mother and her mentor from Big Brothers Big Sisters as she played it. As the event ended, I asked Kamila why it captured her attention for so long. Is she is a big fan of dinosaurs?

Nope. She is not enthralled by dinosaurs, she told me.

Then why did she spend all that time playing it?

“It’s a really fun game,” she explained.

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