The founder of video game giant Electronic Arts, Trip Hawkins, says he's concerned about children's growing addiction to mobile devices. But instead of prying smartphones and tablets away from kids, he believes the solution is to load them with better content—games that are just as entertaining as the ones they already play, yet impart some lessons along the way.
His answer is educational gaming startup If You Can, which on Wednesday launched its first iPad game "If..." and announced a $6.5 million series A round led by Greylock Partners. The latest funding brings the total amount raised to $9.3 million.
Hawkins, who created mobile gaming company Digital Chocolate after EA, said he's been fascinated with social and emotional learning for about 20 years, watching this approach to education in his children's classroom experience at the Nueva School. Emphasizing self-awareness, emotion management, and positive relationship building, social and emotional learning has historically been taught in close-knit communities, he noted—less so in the classroom.
"There's a battleground for children's attention today," Hawkins told Fast Company. To bring social and emotional learning to the mainstream, he said If You Can aims to build engaging games for children motivated to learn. Others have similar ideas, with Sim City and Minecraft coming out with educational versions.
Each of the chapters for the iPad game "If..." contain about a month's worth of classroom lessons. The first chapter is available for free, but additional access requires a $5 monthly subscription. Aimed at children between the ages of six and 12, the game combines Pokemon-like game mechanics with the premise of the movie It's a Wonderful Life, "where you have no obligation to engage in goodwill, but you have plenty of opportunities to do things around town that will affect how others feel about you," Hawkins said.
One of the major challenges for If You Can is scaling to meet the demand of schools. Currently, the game is targeted at consumers, a.k.a. helicopter parents, but the company also has strategic partnerships lined up with organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club of America—as well as pilot programs with interested schools.