Review by David Thomas, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2015

Taken Charge

Computer skills game fills niche, won’t electrify learning

Subjects & skills

  • Critical Thinking
Grades 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.
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Pros: An attractive, playful way to address often dry concepts.

Cons: It too often relies on memorization.

Bottom Line: An appealing, ISTE standards-aligned introduction to some fundamental computer concepts and skills, but the learning content seems light when matched with the game's length.

A teacher that needs an alternative way to get kids up to basic literacy with key computer concepts may find Taken Charge the right kind of activity. At well over 10 hours long, the game, if measured out correctly, could provide the spine for an entire extended unit on computers. Coupled with class discussion and other activities to support and supplement gameplay, Taken Charge could stimulate kids to think more deeply about technology beyond the games they play and the movies they stream.

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Taken Charge is a Web-based, ISTE standards-aligned game that focuses on fundamental computing skills and concepts. A comic book narrative sets the adventure in motion. A family of creatures fueled by electricity wake up and find the family dog has been kidnapped and they've been sapped of their juice. Faced with certain doom, the family's kids set off on a series of missions to reclaim their pet, solve the mystery of the abduction, and learn about computers along the way. Combining Mario-style, side-scrolling adventure levels with drill-and-practice matching and a few other basic game types, players learn about computers, computer security, networking, Web browsing and more.

The idea of gamification promises to blend serious learning content with playful gaming fun. This Mary Poppins "spoonful of sugar" strategy can work, or it can simply slather something attractive on top of something less so. Taken Charge has some excellent moments where the game and the learning content come together enjoyably and meaningfully. Balanced with these successes, however, are some disjunctions between sound pedagogy and gameplay. The result is learning that's not terribly interesting and/or play that's a bit boring. For instance, during the first gaming level, players must skillfully jump to land on difficult-to-reach platforms to retrieve what amounts to computing vocabulary words. While this manages a few amusing moments, over time the jumping distracts rather than melds with the concepts being taught. Taken in light of Taken Charge's longer length, this hit-or-miss design can be a tough sell for some teachers who may look for more in-depth content. If dealt out in bursts, however, there's some solid fun to be had covering some core tech content not often taught through gaming.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Bright, 3D design and a narrative wrapper are designed to get kids digging into technology concepts. This approach certainly will get kids on board, but the range of games may not appeal to all types of learners.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Underneath the narrative, exploration, and lightweight puzzles, the pedagogical approach focuses heavily on memorization of terms and concepts. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Basic in-game feedback points players in the right direction, and the teacher dashboard provides extra data at a cost. But if a kid gets really stuck, the only other option for help is to email the developer.

Common Sense Reviewer
David Thomas Director of academic technology

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