Questionaut: The Spoonful of Sugar Approach

Joe Rheaume's picture
An old man asks you a multiple choice question in Questionaut
Questionaut takes the "Spoonful of Sugar" approach


Questionaut is a simply gorgeously drawn and animated educational game in the same vein as Samarost. The game was created for the BBC's Bitesize series by Samarost creator Amanita Design.  The intent of the Bitesize series is to combine grade school quizzes with online games, and that's what Questionaut is. Your character has a balloon that is fueled by knowledge. In each level, there is a clever point-and-click puzzle that you must solve in order to get the attention of a character, who will then ask you a series of multiple choice questions. Answering a question correctly adds to your fuel, and an incorrect question subtracts from it. Once you have five bubbles of fuel, your balloon has enough fuel to move on to the next challenge. Questions and the levels are thematically related. There is an owl who asks you questions about animals, an old man who questions you on writing, and an ice-skater who lives near a giant bunsen burner quizzes your knowledge of chemistry. Arithmetic, probability, geometry, physics and English are also tested.

Questionaut definitely takes the "Spoonful of Sugar" approach to educational games that I wrote about in my recent blog post. There is no question that Questionaut’s whimsical animation and clever puzzles make the dry multiple choice questions more enjoyable, but I would not go so far as to call the game "educational". The point of multiple choice questions is to test knowledge, but to get the full potential of educational games they should impart knowledge by facilitating exploration and experimentation.

Exploration and experimentation are exactly what Amanita's games are about, but you are usually exploring a strange yet beautiful universe full of floating islands in space. The things you learn from Samarost aren't necessarily applicable to reality, but one could imagine applying the "let's see what this does" approach to a more realistic simulation, which would result in an engaging and meaningful educational game.

In fact, Questionaut does include a level where the puzzle involves melting ice into water, then boiling the water into steam. Knowledge of the different states of matter is covered in the quiz questions on that level. Perhaps we would have gotten more of that sort of experience if the BBC had asked Amanita for an exploratory educational game, instead of a dressed up multiple-choice quiz.

"Spoonful of Sugar" implies that education is bitter medicine, and that games are sweet junk food, and in the contrast of the quiz questions and gameplay of Questionaut this might seem true. But education certainly does not have to be bitter. Humans crave knowledge; we love to learn things, as long as we find those things interesting and useful. Likewise video games don't have to be junk food. Play Samarost and tell me that's not an enriching experience.

Play Samarost

Play Questionaut