To Game or not to Game, that is my question

For the past few summers, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has made a concerted push to offer youth writing programs in the summer. I have been involved with a partnership with a local vocational high school that offers summer enrichment programs for middle school students. I’ve been part of teams that have offered programs in stop-motion movie making, webcomics, digital storytelling and more.

Here’s what I am mulling over, and I need to do it fairly soon (like, in the next few days, when advertising for the summer already gets underway): Do I offer a course around Game Development and Design? Before I say “yes,” I am trying to figure out, “Can you pull this off, mister?”

The text to a speech about gaming that I found online is something I keep coming back to as a sort of guide in my thinking around using gaming for education. The Ten Commandments of Game Development Education by Ernest Adams is wonderfully frank and helpful, and even though it is aimed for the university level, I see a lot of advice here that I should follow, including allowing for failure, keep “play” at the center of the work, show the history of the field of work, and encourage collaborative teamwork.

I have a feeling such a class would be of interest to a lot of kids (don’t you?) and so I am brainstorming here a bit about what I would do with them over the course of the 12 hours spread out over four days. My aim would be to make the program fun and interesting (it is summer, after all) while still engaging them as learners around concepts of design, play, creation and technology. And I want them to “create,” not just play.

Here’s an outline of my thinking:

  • Some of the first day would be centered around non-tech gaming and development of a game as a collaborative process. I would use what we did at the National Writing Project session around gaming, where we worked in small groups with some unknown materials to develop a game, with rules, that we could teach others.
  • We’d look at some familiar board games, and then use this book that I found that comes up with different ways to play familiar games (such as, a new way to play Monopoly, etc.) This would lead into a discussion around design: how does a game invite a player and what elements work for play? I might toss some card games into the mix, too.
  • I’d love to do something about the history of Video Games (there must be a good resource somewhere) and bring them to one of those sites that allow you to play the old 8-bit games like Pacman, Pong, Astroids, etc.,. so they can experience where video games came from and how far they have come in a few decades.
  • We’d then move into looking at and playing some online games, as we mull over, once again, design elements. What animation, choices for the player, artwork, etc., makes a game effective? I bet we could compile a pretty good list of recommended games from the kids.
  • I’d show them Scratch, with an emphasis first on animation and programming, and then, shift gears into using Scratch to develop a simple game. (I know this can be done with the MIT freeware, but I haven’t yet done it.)
  • At this point, I would work on the concept of “story” — of the underpinnings of a good game, and how character and plot can guide the game developer along (and also, note that this is a point of argument in the gaming world — that not all games need “story” to be successful and sometimes “story” ruins a good game, right?).
  • Here’s where I might have them use Gamemaker8 (which I have been experimenting with) to develop a Maze Game, and for those advanced students, turn them loose for something larger. I imagine this will be the point where the differentiated instruction will come into play, and where students with background knowledge can become leaders with me of the session. (And to be honest, I am looking for platform that is a bit easier to use. Any ideas?)
  • I want to look more for other game development software that we could use. I know there are some for developing games for mobile devices and for the Xbox. And I seem to recall a gaming platform that students can use to learn about making games. I’d have to dig around my notes for that one (does it cost money?)
  • I might as well have a time when kids can bring in their Xbox or Wii and let them play, right? I’d have to structure what we are looking at while they play.
  • I’d develop a website for their games to be published and shared. They would not be creating in a vacuum. And they would be testers and sources of feedback for each other, too. This could be interesting — how do we adapt the Peer Writing Response for Peer Gaming Response?
  • I’d even dig up a video documentary or two about game design. There was a good one about Donkey Kong, if I remember correctly. (note to self: appropriate for kids?)
  • I know at least one person who had a career on working in the video game industry that I bet I could bring in to talk about his work. There must be others out there, too. I always try to bring in guests who have experience who can talk to the kids and answer questions that fall outside my own field of expertise.

So, what do you think? Is it viable? Do you have resources that could help me along the way?

Peace (in the brainstorming),
Kevin

12 Comments
  1. This sounds amazing! I am so trying to figure out gaming and how it works, the storytelling, etc. This post helped me make sense of what is possible. I hope you do it and share what you learn with us.

  2. Great ideas! And, I’ll bet you could do a videochat with some people at the amazing Full Sail University in Orlando — they have a remarkable game development program there. No doubt, there would be students–and maybe faculty–who could help you with not only ideas, but also some fantastic resources, and maybe even some good examples.
    Man, I’d jump on this! I’ll bet students will be all over it!

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  4. Hi Kev, Sounds like a great program. Go for it! Sounds like you have most of the pieces in place. You might get some good leads from Jeff Brain, who did a session year before last at California’s Computer Using Educators (CUE) Conference on his work with creating curriculum around game design for his middle school students: there’s an archive of his presentation here

    community.cue.org/forum/topics/cgamer-creating-games

    (you may have to register to access this page–email me if you have any problems). He has three slides worth of links and references at the end, here are just a few:

    Further Resource Material: Sites
    •www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/2/
    • finegamedesign.com/education.html
    •www.igda.org/ • jackie42.simnasium.com/#
    http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/
    WhatMakesaGame.shtml • http://www.systemreferencedocuments.org/
    http://www.hyw.com/Books/WargamesHandbook/Contents.htm

    He also posted a link in the discussion to a blog on using game design for instruction:

    teachingdesign.blogspot.com

    Have fun! Keep us posted.
    Cheers, Fred

    Fred Mindlin
    Associate Director for Technology Integration
    Central California Writing Project
    ccwp.ucsc.edu/
    fmindlin.wordpress.com/
    “Intelligence is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.” — John Holt

  5. Sounds like a great workshop, with lots of detail! I have run several game design workshops with teachers and students, using the Scratch application. I like it because of it’s simplicity for new users, but you can create very complex games with it. It also has a great social, collaborative element with web sharing built in and the ability to view, play and download other’s work to remix.

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