The Range of Writing in our Video Game Design Unit

Writing Activities in Video Game Design unit (update 2017)

My students are not just playing video games all December for our Game Design Unit. We do lots of writing, although most of it is “sneaky” writing on my part — smaller, quick reflection points mixed with larger, more formal writing. A few years ago, for a presentation, I began to chart out the various writing assignments that take place (as much to document our work as to justify any questions from parents and administrators).

Today, they are working on the writing of their persuasive Video Game Review assignment, crafting an argument about a video game through the lens of design features (controls, visuals, sound, etc.) Meanwhile, some students are starting to finish and publish their video game projects, and getting other kids from around the world in Gamestar Mechanic to play and give feedback on their projects.

Peace (write it to live it),
Kevin

Video Game Design Unit: Student Story-Frames

(image via Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog)

I’ve been sharing out about our class work with merging video game design and story-telling, and my reminder to my sixth grade students about the importance of story. In a recent Gamer’s Journal reflection, I asked them to remind me of their game story-frame.

Here are some of the examples, which are a good indication of how my young writer/gamers are thinking of narrative in terms of game design.

The story frame is that a young magician is trying to get revenge on another older magician that has gotten him in trouble and fired his favorite teacher for standing up for him. Your player is his servant and you must make the older magician look bad in return by stealing one of his magical devices, but that won’t be easy. The hardest part of building my game was making sure that it fit the story accurately.

It is called “Lab X: the experiment”. It is about a scientist who is new at Lab X, and is told to see how an experiment ended up. He heads up to the room in which they conduct experiments, to discover that the experiment turned everyone else into monsters. Then he tries to escape with only the help of a few robots to instruct him.

It is about a girl named Amy trying to find her long lost brother. He was taken from her and her family about a year ago. He was taken by evil creatures or the creatures of death. But in the second level you are her brother trying to escape from the creatures.

The story-frame of my game is that Tyson (the character) is trying to save someone he knows Percy from Tartarus. There are 4 levels and Tyson starts at the Empire State Building and has to make it through the Empire State Building, the Underworld, and Tartarus alive. He will face monsters on his way, too.

My story is about a young hero who wakes up in a wonderland after defeating Gregor the Great, (or so he thinks,) A great wizard that needs “sun-gems” for power. Roger G. will guide the hero through the wonderland so they can get the sun-gems to leave and thwart Gregor before it’s too late.

My game is about sprites who are able to fly, and use their abilities on a daily basis. However, the new King has restricted their ability to fly. None of the sprites like this, and the player is chosen to go challenge the king to get back their right to fly.

My video game follows the story of a heroine who finds the courage to go save the princess. The princess has been kidnapped (or I guess you could say princess-napped), by the Evil Oracle, who brings her to a secret chamber within a volcano. He puts her under a mind control, so she listens to everything he says. The heroine first escapes the kingdom, which is under a sort of lockdown. The next step is to venture through the Dark Forest, where she must battle three evil sprites to collect the Keys of the Forest, which allow you to safely leave. Lastly, the heroine must battle the Evil Oracle, who told the princess to jump into the volcano. She defeats him, and must rescue the princess, who will unknowingly attack you, without harming her.

I would like to give you an update on my game I titled “The Treasure Rescue”. My game is about an evil turkey that steals the treasure that is filled with the national history of the Galapagos Island and the queen has asked you to go on a dangerous journey to find and retrieve the treasure.

My video game’s storyline is you get captured by the evil snow Queen and you need to escape before she destroys your whole village with her giant snow monster servant! You have to escape her dungeon and get past her royal guards before it’s too late to save your village!

Peace (in story and game),
Kevin

The Story-Frame Component of the Video Game Design Project

Text Samples: The Queen's Mission

My students no doubt think I am a broken record (if they knew what a record was). Every day, as they are working on their Hero’s Journey Video Game Design Project, I am reminding them: What is your story? How will the player “read” the story by playing your game? Is each level a “chapter”? Where are you putting text into your game?

Text Samples: The Queen's Mission

It’s important that the narrative be part of the game, but they often get wrapped up in the design of the game that they are apt to forget about the story. My daily and constant reminders, and questions as they work, are more about narrative than level design at this point in time.

Text Samples: The Queen's Mission

As always, I am working on my own game as they work, too, as a way to share out my thinking process, my workarounds, my progress and a mentor text for them to play to understand the mix of game and story that this project is all about.

You can play my game, in development process, if you want. I am revising my game as I work, re-publishing new versions as I add new levels/chapters, and talking through my process with my students.

Play The Queen’s Mission (NOTE: does not work well on mobile devices).

Peace (written and read),
Kevin

 

 

The Start of the Journey: Video Game Design Project

 

Writing and Game Design Compared

We’re just starting up our video game design project, with a theme of the Hero’s Journey as the storyframe for video games being designed and then published by my sixth graders. The other day, I gave them a few games from last year’s class (as well as my own mentor game) to play and to write about, from a player perspective.

Storyboarding Video Game DesignThink you can play?

Play The Odyssey of Tara

Right now, students are working on the brainstorming of the storyframe, and how they envision the levels of the game to look like via storyboarding.

Storyboarding Video Game Design

Peace (game on),
Kevin

Games, Learning, Literacy: Week 4 (Art Forms)

James Paul Gee Quote18

I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan. 

This weekend, I came to the end of Gee’s book, and I found myself once again appreciating the perspectives he brings to the picture. It’s most pertinent now for me because I am bringing my sixth graders into their game design unit, starting today. While Gee’s work looks more at the player within a game system, and all the literacies that are part of it, my aim is more around teaching my students how to think of a game as a story, and the story as the framework of the game.

Gee’s wrap-up thoughts around Affinity Spaces and the fluid nature between game designer and game player (particularly as more and more games have open ended entry points for players to mod, or hack, games) is intriguing. It reminds me there is so much I don’t know about video games when it comes to reading and writing and thinking.

And Gee also admits that this kind of literacy moment is still emerging (he wrote the book a few years ago, but that is still true, I believe) and there is much we don’t know, and may not know, for some time. That makes it all very intriguing as a curious teacher of writing and reading, right? I think so.

James Paul Gee Quote19

Peace (reading and playing),
Kevin

Games, Learning, Literacy: Week 3.5 (Culture)

James Paul Gee15

I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan. 

Gee’s earlier exploration of digital identity within the framework of video games now bubbles up again around cultural identity and cultural understanding. He posits that the immersive storytelling elements of video game design allows for an experience for the player that has the potential, at least, to bring them into the world of  “the other.”

This idea of “walking in the shoes” of another through a literary experience is not new, of course. Good books do the same. Video games can bring that to another level because of the player’s identity within the game itself.

James Paul Gee17Gee shares a few games that he has played which have done just that — shifted the cultural perspectives so that the player comes to understand motives and rationale for another. A game centered around the Middle East, where the player is an Arab as opposed to the traditional game where Middle Easterners are often the terrorist enemies (particularly in the wave of games that came after the 9/11 attack on the U.S.).

Gee’s argument that video games, with all of its complexities, provides the possibility of deeper context is intriguing. Notice that word “possible,” for not all video games rise to this narrative challenge.

He also notes that this kind of immersive play as learning can happen rather seamlessly in well-designed games, so that the player is barely aware of it. This ties back to his earlier discussions around how games teach players to get situated in the game mechanics.

James Paul Gee16

Peace (in games),
Kevin

Games, Learning, Literacy: Week Three (Text Connections)

James Paul Gee Quote14

I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan. 

In many ways, this chapter’s exploration of story and text is why I wanted to read this book in the first place. I am intrigued by how video games may or may not push our understanding of story into new directions, and how “texts” might play a role in the player’s experiences and learning.

James Paul Gee Quote13There is certainly an immersive quality to media-rich storytelling, and video games — if done well — pull you into that story in a rather disorientating way. While Gee explains how many games give you teaser introductions as a way to “teach” game mechanics for the user, most successful games weave the design of play in the design of narrative in ways that are intricate and finely woven. As Gee notes, sometimes the player doesn’t realize that they are being surrounded by story.

James Paul Gee Quote12Here, Gee is analyzing in detail how we “read” video games by playing video games, and what is going on with the learning process in doing so. He argued that games are, in fact, rich in various texts, some more visible than others.

James Paul Gee Quote11A section in the book about the written or digital instructions that come with games (which may be less and less part of the gaming experience now) are often part of the “semiotic language” of the game, in that the vocabulary and language of instructions are in tune with the mechanics of the game design system. Reading them in isolation is disorientating. Picking and choosing parts to read, when you need them — as gamers do — surfaces a language all of its own, with transactional values.

James Paul Gee Quote10

The real “reading” happens with the “playing” and that moment when the story and the game merge together seamlessly is the reason why players play these kinds of games (with a narrative arc).

James Paul Gee Quote9The player, and the choices they make along the way, act in partnership with the writer/game designer, so that agency for character development and plot arcs are done in mutual agreement, even if that thread between writer (game designer) and reader (game player) is not always evident.

James Paul Gee Quote8What I appreciate here is that it has me thinking again of what writing is, and how writing changes with digital media like video games. And therefore, how can I as a teacher help my young students tap into that immersive element to bring new ways to write?

Peace (game on),
Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Games, Learning, Literacy: Week Two (Digital Identity)

James Paul Gee Quote4

I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan. This reflection is centered on Chapter Three in the book.

The topic of digital identity and digital persona and how we project both who we are and who want to be (or at least, want to be seen as) is an intriguing topic made relevant by the ease of identity flux in online spaces and video game environments.

Gee’s critical look at how video game players use identity to bridge the span between real life (who I am in the real world) with gaming (who I am in this immersive world) to a third aspect (how decisions I make in this immersive world pushes against my real world identity) is pretty interesting. I am particularly attuned as a teacher to that third piece — of how one world overlaps with the other — in what he calls “projective identity.”

James Paul Gee Quote5

I appreciated how Gee brings this look at video games back to how it might have importance in the classroom. He uses a science classroom as an example, showing how we want our learners to imagine themselves as scientists when learning about science. They take on the identity of a scientist, and that overlap between what they know of science and what they think a scientist may know (and how that is made visible) is a key element of learning through hands-on work and playfulness.

I think this does happen in many areas, such as history (read like a historian for multiple perspectives) and math (explain your answer in terms someone else might understand) and Language Arts (write a story from a perspective of the character, paying attention to voice). But Gee notes that we don’t always make this visible to students, even though many already do this in the games they play outside of school.

James Paul Gee Quote6

As always, Gee gives us a lot to chew on.

James Paul Gee Quote7

Peace (across identities),
Kevin

 

Games, Learning, Literacy: Week One

James Paul Gee Quote

I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan (who once led me into Minecraft with Networked Narratives). This is our first week of responses, and we read the first two chapters.

A few things stand out for me:

  • Gee’s work has had a lot of influence on thinking about literacy and video games, so I have seen some of his video presentations and read smaller pieces, but never the book itself. It’s a bit dated now (2003, and updated 2007) but it seems so far that Gee’s ideas and insights still stand up.
  • Gee’s defining of terms such as affinity spaces (a favorite of mine in relation to CLMOOC), Semiotic Domains (a new one for me), and literacies and learning already has me thinking of my teaching and my own learning.
  • I appreciated that he approached the topic from the standpoint of a father wondering what his son was doing when playing video games, and then as he immersed himself (perhaps more so than most of us would do), he began to uncover the variety of skills and literacies needed to play these games but also the invisible literacies in the design itself (which is where I am most interested).
  • I am curious/confused about this Semiotic Domain concept, and how people immersed in a system of some sort share commonalities of learning and more.  What is this concept? Well, “Semiotic domains as described by Gee (2003) refers to a variety of forms that take on meaning such as images and symbols, sounds, gestures and objects.” It also refers to “… distinct collective consciousness shared by people with similar interests, attributes or skill sets …” — from http://etec.ctlt.ubc.ca/510wiki/Semiotic_Domains You can tell there’s a lot to unpack there.
  • The elements of multimedia composition coming together into the video game medium/format is undeniable, and finding ways to showcase those elements seems important, particularly as I work with my students in a few weeks on our own video game design project.

James Paul Gee Quote2

I’ve been reading the book on the Kindle and then using my highlights and notes for sharing of some quotes. This kind of curation works most effectively for me in my busy life for finding and keeping some anchor points. This third quote nearly goes in the direction of immigrant/native, which would have turned me off (even remembering the 2003 publication date), but Gee straddles the line and makes it more about adults needing to pay more attention to what kids are doing.

James Paul Gee Quote3

Come join the conversation. Keegan has an open invitation. Let’s learn together.

Peace (game on),
Kevin

 

Games That Draw You In to Doodle

I’ve been remembering two (but I suspect there are more) video games that integrate the player’s doodling skills as CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) explores the elements of doodling and sketching this Make Cycle.

The first game is one that I have often done with full classes with interactive boards. Draw a Stickman is easy to use, and has some fun elements that will get the whole classroom engaged, and I often use the activity as an introductory lesson around plot design, foreshadowing and character.

All you do is follow directions on the screen, drawing what you are prompted to draw, and the website uses your doodle to move the story along to the next chapter. The Epic app, which the website promotes, is designed along similar lines for mobile devices.

Go on. Give Draw a Stickman a try. It’s fun.

The second game that came to mind as we were doodling this week is Drawn to Life, a Nintendo game that we have on Wii here at home and my older kids once played it on mobile devices, too. I have only watched the game a bit and remember reading about it, as when it came out, the whole concept of player agency was a big deal.

I suspect the unexpected nature of players as artists is difficult to design for, as the parameters of what a player might draw or want to use can shift at any moment. But I like that concept of the player’s art skills and imagination being baked into the design of a video game format, and wish there was more of that.

Any other major drawing/doodle games that I am missing?

Peace (and games),
Kevin