PBS Kids Digital is launching its own online playground for kids ages 6-9. The game is called Kart Kingdom. It will allow players to build, play in, and share their own creations with others. The idea is that Kart Kingdom will help kids learn “systems thinking”—an idea that sounds complex but is something that kids (and everyone else) already encounter every day, whether it’s in school, in relationships, or yes, in games.
Pokemon, the trading card game (and the video game series) is a good example of systems thinking made accessible for young people. Alan Gershenfeld, president of E-Line Media, notes that if you were to try explaining systems thinking to a group of young kids, it would probably be too abstract. And yet in a game like Pokemon, players are able to interact with and manage huge collections of information. Each Pokemon monster has specialized features that must be cross-referenced with other components of the system in order to be used effectively.
Kart Kingdom, like Pokemon—like most games, really—is a way to engage kids in systems thinking in a way that simple exposition never could. By playing in this system, they are able to gain a hands-on understanding of how it works, to the point that they can start creating their own games within it. The emphasis is on putting the power into students’ hands. They aren’t simply absorbing (or not absorbing, as the case may be) knowledge passively.
Sara DeWitt, vice president of PBS Digital Kids, mentions that Kart Kingdom isn’t meant to replace outdoor play. It’s all about balance. But chances are that young folks are spending a lot of time learning how to navigate the digital world, and the more healthy, positive ways we can offer to help them do that, the better.
Kart Kingdom will be browser-based initially, but the game is coming to iPad and Android devices this summer.