Wonder Rotunda


posted 12/31/2009 by Tina Amini
other articles by Tina Amini
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For as much attention has been paid to video games for their “horrific” impact on our poor, poor children, there is also a surprisingly good amount of attention being paid to the more honorable aspects of what a quality video game can lend to us gamers. To name just one, video games have potential to have genuine educational value.

How a video game can be educational is, in my opinion, a truly complex matter. There are so many reasons I can identify as to how I am learning while I’m playing Bioshock, or Civilization, to (sort of) randomly name a few. There’s the idea of tangential learning, in which an interest sparked by something found in one of these video games incites the gamer to plunge head first into the Internets for more information. Then there’s the more direct idea of learning like within the strategy game, Civilization, mentioned earlier. Whatever way we are gathering pieces of valuable information from these games, we are ultimately taking away more than just those 10, or 50 hours of gaming time we put in for enjoyment’s sake.

I’m always pleased when this side of video games is recognized and appreciated for once, and so it was with a positive reaction that I began playing Wonder Rotunda, a browser-based game designed for children (ages 7-12) to help introduce them to some extra (and fun) education than what they are receiving. This game consists of an educational, virtual theme park and spoke of zip lining through tropical rainforests, and navigating a submarine through the human digestive system. Sounds fun, right?

The creation and idea of the game comes from an inspiring story, too. Attending the 1964-1965 N.Y. World’s Fair and coming away wholly impressed by it, a D.C. father decided to recreate the experience for children in an online game. I felt pretty enthusiastic about this game – excited to see what worlds I would wander.

I have to say that I was, unfortunately, highly disappointed. I had such high hopes for this game. It was a great idea, with very genuine intentions, and seemed interesting and fun at the same time. It is, still, a great idea but it wasn’t executed correctly.

The “game” starts you off with an avatar creator, and a description of what an avatar is. It’s very simple and plain, and I can guess that any 7-12 year old won’t be too interested in designing an avatar with such little flare. You can also design an avatar of a companion to bring along with you, who does absolutely nothing. He’s (or she’s) meaningless. You arrive at the park and are given access to a map of the theme park, giving you options of where you want to explore first. I hit the zip line first thing expecting to be flying through the jungle exploring varying wildlife. And there began my disappointment. I soon realized that the game was going to amount not to exploring and fun expeditions around this theme park, but to a very dull narration by a very dorky looking man (Mr. Wonder) who basically holds your hand throughout your game. The game can be best described as a point-and-click given that you navigate through by clicking at objects to get more information on them. For instance, you can click on an animal you come across in the rainforest and a text box pops up to describe to you what the deal is with this particular animal that you’ve encountered. This information is tracked in your journal for each expedition. The problem is that by the end of my round in the rainforest I felt like I just read a virtual textbook that my elementary school would have assigned me. This would be a cooler way to read a textbook assigned from school, actually, but don’t disguise it under the name of a “video game” in that case.
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