April 3, 1968: Students rule ancient cities in early educational video games

Students play The Sumerian Game, recognized as the world’s first educational video game. It was originally designed by Mabel Addis, recognized as the world’s first video game writer.

"Game For Young Monarchs" published in Computerworld Volume 2, Issue 14 on April 3, 1968
“Game For Young Monarchs” published in Computerworld Volume 2, Issue 14 on April 3, 1968

The use of technology in education has become ubiquitous, especially in the age of online learning. Educational games have become established as a valuable educational tool, offering students the opportunity to apply and engage with concepts they might otherwise just read about. For example, grade-school students learn about supply and demand from simple computer games simulating a lemonade stand. Medical students learn about anatomy and even witness simulated surgeries using virtual reality. The origins of today’s complex educational games can be traced back to The Sumerian Game, a simple computer game recognized as the world’s first educational video game.

The original designer of the game, Mabel Addis, is recognized as the first writer of a narrative video game. A schoolteacher by training, Mabel Addis designed The Sumerian Game as part of a research study led by the educational research agency BOCES. The study was featured in Computerworld magazine in 1968, in which one of the researchers from the study espoused the benefits of edutainment games, noting that it allowed students to receive individualized instruction at their own pace.

The Sumerian Game would be unrecognizable compared to video games today. A student would sit down at an IBM 1050 terminal connected to a time-shared IBM 7090 mainframe computer and a slide projector. The game opens with a slideshow synchronized to a cassette tape, introducing the player to the world of Sumer. Once the cassette tape finished describing the slideshow, the player would turn back to their computer to begin engaging with the game, making decisions about supplies and crises in their kingdom.

–By Kathleen Esfahany