Innovation is the Name of the Game: "ItzaBitza" and Child Education

by Tanya Thomas on Nov 14 2008 3:35 PM

Innovation seems to have reached dizzying heights these days, and it’s only getting better! Margaret Johnson has added her name to the long list of innovative inventors with the inception of her company that markets a game she created which uses computer play to teach reading to little children.

With technology powerhouse Microsoft as a partner, Johnson on Wednesday debuted the first of what she hopes will be a line of computer games that revives a moribund "edutainment" market for children.

"ItzaBitza" launched by Sabi Inc. immerses children in an animated world that they control and shape by using software developed by Microsoft Labs.

On-screen boys and girls coax players into helping with missions that involve drawing houses, trees or other objects brought to animated life and into understanding increasingly sophisticated sentences along the way.

"ItzaBitza" is Sabi's "stab at establishing a new category for kids gaming," Johnson said.

"We wanted to have a fun game fine-tuned to the way children learn," she said.

Microsoft worked with Sabi as part of an IP Ventures program that licenses propriety technology to startups in exchange for equity stakes in firms.

"Game-based education is a very exciting concept, and one that we have been interested in for many years," said Microsoft chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie.

Sabi consulted learning specialists and brought in engineers that worked on videogames for Microsoft's XBox 360 consoles and computers running the Windows operating system.

They set out to create a computer game for children that bolsters reading abilities along with creative expression.

"Out of that came Living Ink, which we hope delights children in that what they draw comes to life and they interact with it," Johnson said.

"What has happened in the edutainment field is games feel like work. It is our goal and passion to establish this category of games that children actually think are fun and, you know what, you happen to start reading."

Some believe that the education entertainment computer game industry has languished because titles tend to take on the appearance of interactive school assignments based on academic curricula.

"It's a dying field," Johnson said.

"I see it as Sabi's technology addressing a gap in the market," said Sharieff Mansour, director of Microsoft's IP Ventures Program.

"There aren't that many games today that offer the rich, engaging experience of other games with the educational component. I do think this will resonate with parents, big time."

Popular cerebrum exercising titles such as Nintendo's "Brain Age" are "Brain candy" aimed at getting adults to keep their minds in shape with daily workouts, according to Johnson.

Mia Todd, a mother of four whose family tested the game, said her children "experience something new and exciting" each time they play the game.

"It's great to see them learning and being creative, and having so much fun at the same time," Todd said.

Sabi, based near Microsoft's headquarters in the US state of Washington, sees the potential to expand into fun games for teaching children match, science, history and other subjects.