Vanished sounds like a game where you won’t even notice that you’re being educated. (Having looked at a few ‘education’ games, that’s a major kudo from me.)
April 4, 2011 is the date that the Smithsonian Institute and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) launched an eight-week online game for middle school children that was two years in the making. From the Feb. 22, 2011 MIT news release,
The Smithsonian Institution and MIT announced the April 4 launch of VANISHED, an 8-week online/offline environmental disaster mystery game for middle-school children, meant to inspire engagement and problem solving through science.
Developed and curated by MIT’s Education Arcade (a research group of Comparative Media Studies) and the Smithsonian Institution, VANISHED is a first-of-its-kind experience where participants become investigators racing to solve puzzles and other online challenges, visit museums and collect samples from their neighborhoods to help unlock the secrets of the game. Players can only discover the truth about the environmental disaster by using real scientific methods and knowledge to unravel the game’s secrets.
To navigate through the mystery game’s challenges, participants will gain access to Smithsonian scientists from such diverse disciplines as paleobiology, volcanology, forensic anthropology and entomology.
This project is a consequence of a conclusion reached by researchers at the US National Science Foundation that people learn most of their science informally, i.e., outside the classroom. David Zax’s April 19, 2011 article on the Fast Company website notes,
Over many years, after conducting many surveys, the NSF made an intriguing conclusion: A good deal of the public’s understanding of science derives from outside of the classroom. NSF developed a program in “Informal Science Education,” and Osterweil’s team–jointly housed by MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program and its Scheller Teacher Education Program–nabbed an NSF grant to work on a game, back in 2009. Two years later, more than 5,000 students are playing the game, Vanished, and leaving about 4,000 posts a day on the sites forums.
There’s more about Vanished here (including Frequently Asked Questions) and you can register here. The game ends on or about May 31, 2011. It is still possible to sign up. Players must be 10 1/2 to 14 years old. People of other ages may sign up as observers.