Chennai-based start-up explores the challenging world of educational gaming for the under 10-year-olds

Chennai-based startup Nunook Interactive Private Limited's online social game 'BrainNook' launched in March last year is an online social game for children below the age of 10 years, that serves them math and language lessons in a rich immersive game universe.

The kids log in to the massively-multiplayer online world taking on online avatars, similar to Second Life, and do the assignments given to them by their school teachers. The progress they make is made available to the teachers and the parents. And because the game addresses a very young age group, there are also additional controls to ensure that the children are safe. For example, interactions with other players can be restricted or even barred.

The game ecosystem draws its content from the Common Core States Standards Initiative of the US educational department. The lessons are from the maths and english curriculum for grades one through five as the product seems to be developed keeping in mind the US schools as primary target but Nunook's founder and CEO Abhijeet Vijayakar says the content is universal enough for any child in the age group conversant in English.

The game already seems to have good traction. Here are some claims to the effect: more than 50,000 teachers and students have registered from over 150 countries; on an average, a student answers one maths or grammar question every 2 seconds on the game universe; and in the past month, over 1 lakh maths and grammar games have been played.

The company has received angel-funding from Silicon Valley based investors and is incorporated in the US too.

'Game-like fun to education'

The idea for online social gaming for children, Abhijeet says, has stayed with him long before Nunook was established in March 2011. The M.S. Computer Science graduate from the University of Utah has over seven years' experience in the gaming industry for companies like Electronic Arts/ Maxis prior to turning entrepreneur where he has learnt a thing or two about engaging gamers in a massively online universe.

He has worked on cutting-edge games like The Sims as a lead engineer. "The Sims was fun as it allowed gamers to construct cities and thereby learn some thing out of it. But it was still not entirely educational. BrainNook is a way to bring game-like fun to education."

While Nunook took shape as a company that would venture into social gaming, Abhijeet decided to move to Chennai from Bay Area, after his wife got a transfer here.

Like most startups, the biggest difficulty was in finding his team of workers but those difficulties were eventually overcome as and when it arose. Abhijeet runs the development of BrainNook out of a small office in Shollinganallur, a city suburb, and is thinking of ideas of bettering it. One such idea is to try and make BrainNook a platform rather than just a game where teachers could turn content-providers and run their small virtual classrooms.

BrainNook is available online at www.brainnook.com and its school version (BrainNook @School) also as an App for the iPhone and the iPad.

An edited version of this article appeared on The Hindu’s print edition on April 30, 2012.