App review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated September 2014
Profit Seed

Profit Seed

Cute, politically charged GMO farming game needs some context

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Editorial review by Common Sense Education
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Grades
7–12 This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Subjects & Skills
Science, Social Studies

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Pros: Presents a timely topic in a way that's easy for students to grasp.

Cons: Gets difficult quickly, and no scores are kept.

Bottom Line: Attractive, easy to learn, and addresses an important issue, but it's a serious game with a one-sided perspective that leaves teachers and students filling in the bigger picture.

Teachers can use it as part of a larger lesson on the ongoing controversy between pro-GMO and anti-GMO camps, and/or on patent law. As a serious game arguing a specific perspective, it also offers a great opportunity for students to analyze the point of view presented and place it in a larger conversation by doing independent research, filling in the opposing view, and maybe even holding debates.

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Profit Seed is a "serious" or "persuasive" game with a clear agenda: to present an argument against the GMO (genetically modified organism) industry -- specifically, how GMO seeds can be difficult for farmers to control. It's easy to learn with just a few core mechanics: Players control the wind as they guide seeds to the proper fields and attempt to keep away GMO seeds from nearby fields. Birds sometimes eat the crops, tornadoes sometimes blow seeds around, and clouds sometimes obscure the view. Occasionally, a prevailing and shifting wind further complicates the process. When a GMO seed accidentally plants itself in a player's field, it must be dug out with a shovel so the patent lawyers don't notice. If too many GMO seeds plant themselves in players' fields, the legal team of Monsanto comes by in a black limo to give warnings and dig up the fields. If that happens too many times, legal action is taken and players go bankrupt, ending the game. There's a clear message: Monsanto and other seed companies control the vast majority of GMO (patented) seeds and -- in the process -- prevent the cultivation of organic and heirloom seeds. 

It starts strong, but the objective doesn't change as players move up levels. Scores aren't kept, and players don't know if there's even an end. In fact, there doesn't seem to be an end goal; rather, it's an increasingly difficult game that players are likely intended to lose, suggesting that keeping GMO seeds out of farmers' fields is a losing battle. It works well for rhetorical effect but might frustrate students, so teachers should address this design choice in class to help students understand why it's frustrating.

Although the anti-GMO point is driven home during gameplay, the greater lesson isn't well integrated into the play, with information being somewhat separate from the play itself. Also, it just gets harder and harder, helping players understand the plight of the small, non-GMO farmer, showing how impossible it is to keep neighboring farmers' seeds from their plots of land. Since there's a clear argument being made, but the issue is more complex, it would best be paired with more context and analysis to get students thinking critically about the issue more broadly from both perspectives.

Students do learn a bit about patent owners' rights and genetic drift, and the website does include links to reference articles. So students interested in the topic have further reading available -- although links to the other side of the argument are absent. Still, students can take what they've learned here and explore meaningful conversations on the topic. 

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Directing seeds with wind currents to the proper fields will get students interested. The interface is attractive, with a very small learning curve.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

The lesson is simple and informative but also one-sided. It'd be nice to see students looking more at both sides critically.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

Gameplay has few mechanics, so the basic instructions are sufficient, but no scores are kept and levels aren't marked, making progress tracking difficult.


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