If you’ve watched your kid get hypnotized by a game, you know what focus looks like.

Now some educators are trying to turn that focus into a teaching moment.

David DiSalvo, writing for Forbes, recently spoke to neuroscientists at the University of Wisconsin to learn about advances in games that teach kids focus and empathy.

The researchers creating the games are trying to build on a legacy of pro-social media. “As Sesame Street proved decades ago amidst the clamor of “TV is an anti-educational evil!” fear mongering, we can make use of technology to enrich minds,” writes DiSalvo in his Forbes article.

So how can a game teach us to focus, without making us lose focus on everything around us?

Tenacity, the game currently being developed by the Games Learning Society Initiative (GLS) in collaboration with Professor Richard Davidson, is an app that asks players to focus on their own breathing as they navigate and explore scenic locations (from Greek ruins to a more esoteric stairway to the stars). Players perform an action in time with their breathing (such as tapping the screen), but as the levels get more difficult, the game introduces distractions.

“The objective is the same as that of meditation—to draw attention back to a central point despite the number or intensity of distractions dive-bombing one’s focus,” DiSalvo says.

In this way, players could strengthen their ability to remain mindful in the face of distractions. Other games the GLS team is working on will teach players to identify nonverbal emotional cues or understand how the human body functions.

Looking at the GLS website, I can’t help but be excited about some of their upcoming projects. These are educational games wrapped in stories and goals. This window dressing doesn’t serve to mask the educational aspect of the games—on the contrary, adding story gives important context to what the players will ultimately learn.

This article was written by

Simone de Rochefort is a game journalist, writer, podcast host, and video producer who does a prolific amount of Stuff. You can find her on Twitter @doomquasar, and hear her weekly on tech podcast Rocket, as well as Pixelkin's Gaming With the Moms podcast. With Pixelkin she produces video content and devotes herself to Skylanders with terrifying abandon.