Games Based Learning With Zoo Tycoon

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The latest chapter of Zoo Tycoon, developed by Frontier Developments and published by Microsoft Studios, has recently become available for Xbox One and Xbox 360. The game puts you in charge of a zoo. You build it up, care for animals, hire and fire staff, keep guests happy, release endangered animals into the wild and more. It is a fantastic entertainment game, but it also has educational merits. I have split these into three broad categories: Animals, Business and Soft Skills.

Animals

The game is obviously about a zoo and animals. There are several things that you could use the game to teach:

  • Different species of animal (how they are tailored to habitats, where they come from etc.)
  • Animal care and how to meet their needs (habitat, social, hygiene, hunger and happiness)
  • Habitats
  • Endangered species

Business

The game is a business simulation, therefore, can be used to teach about the world of business:

  • Cash flow
  • Profitability
  • Customer needs
  • Marketing
  • Working with budgets
  • The ethical side of businesses (treating everyone, including animals, fairly; aim of zoo to release endangered animals into wild as well as profits etc.)

Soft Skills

Playing the game could also improve soft skills:

  • Completing challenges, working to targets
  • Cooperation, collaboration (up to four players can work on the same zoo when online, but could work together on same game in same physical space too)
  • Working within limits (budgetary, physical ‘zoo limit’ constraints, time constraints/deadlines) – problem-solving, creative thinking, time management
  • Interpreting graphs and tables
  • Strategic planning
  • Big picture thinking

As this is a commercial game, it can only go so far. However, it would work best at introducing animal topics to children, such as endangered species or habitats. It could also be used as a longer-term group project on business as, at its heart, it is a business simulation. It is unlikely that within the current education system, the soft skills presented will attract much interest, which is a shame, because one of the main benefits of GBL is its fantastic ability to improve these important 21st century skills in a fun way.

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