As you’ll see if scroll down a bit and your eyes still work, Channel 4 Education revealed ten new webgames from British studios this morning. We sent roving reporter Keza MacDonald to speak to the Commissioning Editors for Education, Alice Taylor and Jo Twist, over three cups of coffee and a ridiculous over-abundance of pastry treats. Wish to read comforting things about how lovely the British indie scene is, why PC webgames are the most effective way of peddling subtle education messages, and how susceptible teenagers are to evil videogames? It’s all just down there.
RPS: Do you see Channel 4’s webgames as competing with more traditional videogames for teenagers’ free time?
Alice Taylor: Channel 4 Education was always aimed at teens through soft learning – not directly at school, not for use in the classroom – for many reasons, not least we were a 2-person department. But also if you’re designing [games] for use in the classroom, the available technology is wildly varied, as is teachers’ desire and ability to use it. So the fact of the matter is, yes, absolutely, we are up against whatever else teens are doing with their spare time. We’re up against triple-A games, we’re up against prime-time telly, hanging out with friends, going to a pub. It’s tough, it’s really tough. But Channel 4 has such a strong identity, and it has a public service remit to work 100% with British indies. The indie gaming scene in particular has such a lovely sense of collective identity – I think the British indie scene is amazing, and we really benefit from that, that sense of character.
RPS: How have teens responded the the education aspect of Channel 4’s games so far? Is something getting through?
Jo Twist: Games are an attraction magnet to teenagers. When you’re putting stuff on the internet and it’s hard to get noticed, games are the way to get teen or tween attention. You spend more time with it, learning through it, playing through it. It’s the difference between a visual culture and a more experiential culture.
Alice Taylor: We often do qualitative research on our projects after the fact, and qualitatively teens come back with “I really enjoyed the games”, or the game part if it’s a project with multimedia, “and I really learned something I never learned before.”
RPS: Why are you remaining focussed on the PC? Is there any interest in bringing these games to consoles?
Alice Taylor: Obviously as a public service, our producst need to be free at the point of consumption. So we’ve gone for all the free platforms – PC, web, mobile in the future. The consoles are owned and controlled, so we have to negotiate. We aim to go there because that’s where a bunch of teenagers are, but it’s trickier, not least because you can’t release something for free there.
Jo Twist: We’re aiming for all of them – PSP Mini, PSN, XBLA. Wii is tricker, and a bit younger, but with the 10-14s perhaps we can start looking at that. But it’s tricky for public service to get on those platforms.
Alice Taylor: It’s a smaller audience, but very dedicated… it’s where a lot of their attention is. But we would never put games exclusively on consoles. What we aim to do it get our products as far and wide as we possibly can under the noses of teenagers, so consoles are one of many places we want to be.
Jo Twist: Privates was originally in XNA, of course, so it was planned to go up on Xbox Live Indie, but it got stymied by the sexual content, despite being educational. But we’re perfectly happy with the distribution on PC anyway.
RPS: How happy are you with the reception of this year’s projects, like The Curfew?
Alice Taylor: Really happy. I’m going over to Canada next week to talk to the government – they came to us and said, “Curfew! That talks to teenagers! We need to know more about that.” There’s a lot of interest in it from all over the place, and from places like the government, which is fantastic. We’re really pleased with it. I think it’s a very beautiful and interesting thing with some fascinating content in it – I think that Kieron [Gillen] did a fantastic job with the writing, and that this is a massively unexplored area, incorporating video into games. It can go far. I think it’s early days, and we can really run with this one. We’ve definitely got plans for a third from Littleloud.
RPS: Thanks for your time.
You can read about the newly announced games over here.