Google has invested heavily in the education market, from promoting the use of Chromebooks in the classroom, to offering virtual reality field trips with do-it-yourself kits. Now, with help from safety organisations like Family Online Safety Institute, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition and ConnectSafely, they have released their latest addition to the scene.

Be Internet Awesome is an educational program designed to prevent abuse and help parents and teachers talk to children about internet safety. It consists of online learning resources, a 48-page curriculum, links to support and plenty of information across the site. It's topped with a video series and, most excitingly, a video game called Interland

It’s not easy to protect your children online, and with threats like cyber-bullying, phishing, malware, grooming and 'fake news' ever-present, digital safety is an important conversation to have. That doesn’t mean you have to scream "Danger!" to hammer it home. 

The icily calming, low-poly artwork reinforces the calm, measured approach Interland takes; it is not alarmist, it's restfully informative. It takes style notes from Monument Valley, Journey, Pokemon and Wind Waker, scrambles behavioural lessons with gameplay and manages to deliver a serious message with a light voice.

The game teaches:

  • Share with care (be smart)
  • Secure your secrets (be strong)
  • Don’t fall for fake (be alert)
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated (be kind)
  • Talk it out when things worry you (be brave)

It’s clever because it completely accepts that this is not a game kids will hunt for, nor is it something they will play alone. Interland recognises the limits of an educational game and works within the confines. It doesn’t labour the point. Instead it is quite self-aware; the level design shows a good understanding of the environment and context in which it will be played. It uses quizzes, role-play and spatial puzzles with metaphoric qualities to keep the player interested. 

Personally, I enjoy it when education seeps into gaming, but I can see how people might find it intrusive - especially when done with a heavy hand. There are lots of ways to successfully approach the matter. I was playing Costume Quest the other day and loved the use of character dialogue and humour to make historic references and Aesop-esque comments about good behaviour. It worked because it was infrequent and thoroughly in-keeping with the game’s peppy tone. 

Interland on the other hand concentrates on pure mini-game fun. Breaking the concepts into short levels helps pace the teaching. Encoded messages are kept distinct and un-muddied, and it well suits the short attention span of an excited child. If being introduced as part of a lesson plan, this is key. Separating talking points into mini-games allows students to dip in and out of focus - which is good when your main intent is to instill awareness. Internet safety is something to be remembered, not memorised.

Google’s ambition shows in the program itself. It is compliant with International Society for Technology in Education standards, and the fact that the game sits alongside this body of complimentary work means it's not overburdened with the weight of teaching. 

Whether it’s map-reading with Carmen Sandiego, mathematics with Sumdog or allegorical puzzles with Interland - whether it’s research, reflex, calculation or craft - it’s cool to see gaming in education and I hope it long continues.