Beyond Tablet Looks to Merge Physical and Digital Learning Games

Beyond Tablet aims to bridge the digital/real world divide with their new tabletop game board.

Beyond Tablet aims to bridge the digital/real world divide with their new tabletop game board.

A new entrant into the learning games field is trying to break the mold of the industry by taking the screen out of the digital game environment.

Beyond Screen, a China-based tech firm with an office jus south of San Francisco, has already garnered positive reviews for their first major product, Beyond Tablet. The tabletop board won the prestigious CES Innovation Awards Honoree late last year.

Now, the company has launched a suite of games it has produced for the board that aims to break into the consumer learning game market.

Every parent knows whenever there is a screen around, children will attracted to it like moths to a flame, but if you remove the screen they start to focus again on their immediate environment and this is what we seek to accomplish with Beyond Tablet,” one designer said in an introductory video.

The result is really a play surface that mixes physical elements like blocks and cards with a smart board that guides kids and parents through the games.

The tablet comes with maps that amount to overlays that you place over the board. The surface recognizes the game map and starts the game.

John Shi, CEO of Beyond Screen, said his company is focused on family or multiplayer use, something that does not come easily to existing digital devices.

“I started asking the question, ‘What has technology done for family time?” he said, adding, “And I am afraid the answer is, ‘Not very much.” Because if you think about it all these screen devices are personal devices. They are not devices designed to be used by our family.”

This new entrant into the crowded game-based learning field faces some unique challenges but also addresses many of the issues we have heard run into in developing effective learning games.

On the challenges side, these is the purchase of a new device. Unlike many games that operate on multiple platforms, Beyond Tablet is both the platform and the game developer. This will limit the number of games available – their new suite launched this week only includes four games. But it the purchase of another tablet that could hamper adoption most directly.

But despite its challenges, it is an interesting game to follow. On the one hand, it seeks to bridge the tangible game world of cards and board games. We have reported in the past about the difficulty game designers have had trying to bridge the sizeable card game and learning game industries and Beyond Tablet could be one of the first to crack the code.

But beyond simply adding the tangible elements of card or board games to the digital world, products like Beyond Tablet could improve the educational outcomes of some of their games, if done correctly.

Recent research from Carnegie Mellow University found that students who mixed the real world with digital play retained more learning than those strictly playing on a device.

“Our experimental results provide evidence that observing physical phenomena in the context of an interactive mixed-reality game plays an important role for learning and enjoyment, while adding simple physical controls such as having the kids shake the tablet in a screen-only game or press the physical switch in a mixed-reality game does not have an effect on learning or enjoyment,” the authors wrote.

Things are still very early for Beyond Tablet, who is one of countless digital game and toy producers showing off this week at CES, but they also represent a growing movement for digital learning games to move off of the devices that spurred the industry’s initial growth.

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Lee Banville Lee Banville is editor of Gamesandlearning.org and editorial director of the Games and Learning Publishing Council. He is also an Associate Professor of Journalism at The University of Montana. For 13 years he ran the online and digital operations of the PBS NewsHour, overseeing coverage of domestic and international stories.