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Character topic: Edutainment characters

August 28th, 2013

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Character Topic

Edutainment characters.

An American Writer and Designer recently started a popular discussion in the Characters Engage Linkedin group, stating that under normal circumstances, characters are simply created to entertain. "Smokey the Bear" and other characters like him, on the other hand, entertain in order to educate.

She went on to ask the group whether Entertainment-Education or Edutainment characters like "Smokey the Bear" are still relevant today.

A representative of an American VFX and Motion Graphics company thought that, generally speaking, audiences are much more interested in being entertained than educated. EE, he said, must entertain first and then be very careful about how they relay educational content, in order to avoid losing the audience.

An English Creative Director agreed that it is important to get the balance between entertaining and delivering educational content right.

The Writer and Designer, who started the discussion, also thought that EE has to strike a fine balance. It has to be entertaining enough for the audience to hardly notice that it is being educated. If the content is too preachy, or data-driven, the viewers will quickly lose interest.

An American Licensing Professional stressed this point by quoting the board game pioneer Milton Bradley, who coined the phrase that "Learning should be fun and fun should be learning".

According to the Writer and Designer, Milton Bradley was a visionary, whose games brought joy to millions, while educating them, at the same time. Games, she said, have become an entertaining way to learn. In fact, over the past few decades, they have increasingly been adopted as teaching tools by educators.

A Canadian 3D Generalist then made the point that EE needs to take into account that children are intelligent and like to be challenged. Challenging the intellect of kids is as important as entertaining them, and talking down to them needs to be avoided.

The Writer and Designer agreed. Children, she said, are more intelligent than many adults realize. They can also understand serious subject matters and themes. Issues such as illness, death and grief have been successfully incorporated into books and shows, in a way that makes them both understandable and suitable for kids. Good EE should be enjoyable to all ages and should not talk down to anyone, even when the educational content is very basic, such as counting, for example.

"Sesame Street" struck that balance beautifully back in 1969, which contributed to the fact that it is still on the air, 40 years later. It's a near perfect example of edutainment's ability to teach both academic and social skills to kids.

Despite the fact that the shows were full of educational content, such as math and grammar, this group member did not even realize that she was being educated, when she watched them as a child, simply because "Sesame Street" was so entertaining.

Other good examples of EE, both recent and older, mentioned during the discussion included "Dora the Explorer", "Veggie Tales", "The Magic School Bus", "Where's Waldo/Wally", and "Carmen Sandiego".

The English Creative Director then mentioned that even the corporate sector can benefit from edutainment content and characters. Tutorials, for example, often use characters to illustrate concepts and processes. In this field, a character-based EE approach can be used to great effect.

Finally, a Brazilian Computer Animation Professor, pointed to the future, saying that he is coordinating a research project set up to develop an Autonomous Digital Actor (ADA) capable of Artificial Intelligence for the edutainment sector.

EE characters, it seems, are as relevant today, as they were in the days of "Smokey the Bear", and have a bright and interesting future ahead of them.

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