If You Can Company, a new startup from EA founder Trip Hawkins that uses gameplay to teach children social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, has raised $6.5 million in Series A funding led by Greylock Partners with Almaz Capital participating. Previously, the company raised $2.8 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Founder’s Fund, Maveron and several others. This brings the startup’s total funding to $9.3 million, and Greylock partner David Sze has joined the board of directors at If You Can Company.
When Hawkins was thinking about developing an educational game, he realized there was a big gap in a title that would provide social and emotional learning skills. In fact, research supporting SEL, which is the discipline of learning how to understand and manage one’s emotions, now proves this learning can be taught and that this set of skills not only helps students learn in school, but also helps them to develop into happier, healthier children. Hawkins, who has four children himself, tells me that there are some schools that have a curriculum around this type of learning, and he started thinking about how to incorporate this into a game.
Similar to how Hawkins built EA’s Madden Football, by incorporating player stats and the NFL rules into the experience and gameplay, he is integrating SEL curriculum to better serve children. Hawkins drew from several academic and research publications, as well as school-based SEL programs to inform its learning content and goals, beginning with the State of Illinois (first to develop freestanding, comprehensive state standards in SEL) and The Nueva School (pioneers in the field of SEL).
The end product is “IF…”, a chapter-based adventure game that helps children learn these social and emotional skills, including how to manage difficult emotions, persevere through challenges, make healthy decisions and show empathy and compassion. With each chapter, a child navigates a new “IF…” adventure, interacting with the combination of storytelling and game-play mechanics to engage and motivate.
The game itself is set in the imaginary town of Greenberry. It is designed to engage the child in a “hero’s journey” in which they unlock the mysteries of the town and bring the two rival factions – the dogs and the cats – back into harmony. Children can either be a “cat” or a “dog” in the game, and the general gameplay uses metaphors about talking about types of emotions and energies. For example, Hawkins says that when characters have emotional intelligence they can detect that there are magic energy portals they can use to travel through space.
The age range is aimed at children 7-11 and includes the ability for parents to track their child’s accomplishments and development within the app.
For now the game is iPad only, but eventually the app will be expanded to other mobile platforms.
With EA and Digital Chocolate, clearly Hawkins knows gameplay and development, especially on mobile. But educational games for children are a different beast, especially when aiming to the younger set.
Teaching social and emotional learning though gaming could be a good way to reach children — but also there isn’t a real quantifiable way to know whether your child is actually learning (compared to asking them if they know their ABCs or answers to a math problem). But Hawkins’ approach of informing the parents of progress in the game is compelling, and I suspect that if parents are involved with this aspect of learning, the outcome can be successful.