Another NWP Teacher on a Similar Gaming Journey

Sometimes, the journey into new terrain can be awfully lonely.

So it was with great surprise that I recently found that another National Writing Project teacher who was in the same exact session as I was on the topic of gaming at last year’s NWP Annual Conference writing has published an article in the Wisconsin English Journal about taking what he learned from the session (led by Alan Gershenfield, of eLine Media) and how he had brought gaming  into his own writing curriculum. I have been on the same path, using the information and elements of Gershenfield’s talk for my jump into video gaming as another path into learning with students.

(See all of my recent posts about gaming in the classroom.)

Fifth Grade teacher Greg Kehring, in his article “Tech Tools for Teachers, by Teachers: Video Game Design in the Classroom,” does an excellent job of explaining not only the rationale of why he moved gaming elements into his writing classroom. He also outlines the many ways that video game design and writing process are connected (this is the same avenue that I have been exploring). He also has his kids using Gamestar Mechanic, which is the site that I use.

Greg writes:

“When I started this unit. I wanted to offer all students a chance to become truly engaged in the writing process, and all students were immersed in this writing experience (of creating games and keeping a reflection journal). Although it may have been masked in a digital disguise, the traditional writing process was at the core of this project, and all students were able to use it successfully.” – p.30

Check out Greg Kehring’s entire piece at the Wisconsin English Journal.

And Greg’s article helped me sort out something else, too. My ventures into gaming with students so far was with a summer camp project with a certain audience (OK, middle school gaming geeks). I’ve been toying with whether to bring video game design into my school as an after-school activity, or to bring it right into all of my sixth grade classes as an integrated curriculum. Thanks to Greg’s piece, I realize now that I need to bring the concept to all of my students, as part of my regular writing curriculum. There — decision made. And I will have my students do written reflections of their experiences, too, just as Greg’s students did.

Greg and I don’t know each other, but I’m happy to have stumbled onto his work. Thanks, Greg.

Peace (in the games),


Podcast: My Column on Gaming and Education

Gaming Article Screenshot
I had a column published this morning in our local newspaper about some ideas on why teachers should consider video gaming as a learning opportunity. I decided to create a podcast of the column on Cinch, but the full piece is available at the Daily Hampshire Gazette website, too.

If you want to know more about my journey into gaming, you can check out my resource at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site: More Than a Game: One Teacher’s Journey into Gaming by Kevin Hodgson
Peace (in the games),

Presentation: Video Games and Digital Writing

On Saturday, I co-presented on the topic of video games and digital writing at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. My co-presenter did a fantastic job of showing how an immersive game experience can spark various kinds of writing in the classroom while I focused on the links between game design and the writing process, and how kids can create (not just play) games.
Here is my presentation:

Gaming Presentation PDF
Here is the resource list:
More Than a Game Resource PDF
Peace (in the sharing),

Comparing Writing Process and Game Design

Writing v Game Design
I was thinking again about the many overlaps between the cyclical process of writing and the iterative process of designing a game, and where they so often overlap, even if we use different terms. Neither process is linear, so my chart is not quite accurate as a flow chart. I created this as part of a presentation around gaming and writing that I am co-presenting this weekend for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project.

Peace (in the game),


Book Review: Reality is Broken

(This book is going to be part of an online discussion at the National Writing Project Book Group, so I will hold off on a lot of details about the book here. — Kevin)

I guess the title says it all for the underling premise of Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. She’s certainly someone with a lot of credibility in a lot of circles — as an academic and as a gamer, and game designer, too. This book delves into the many ways in which reality for many people is boring, unfocused, and unmotivating, and how gaming can bring new possibilities for increasing our satisfaction with reality by inserting challenges, rewards and connections into life.

“If you are a gamer, it’s time to get over any regret you might feel about spending so much time playing games. You have not been wasting your time. You’ve been building up a wealth of virtual experience that …can teach you about your true self: what your core strengths are, what really motivates you, and what makes you happiest.” (p. 12)

McGonigal has a lot of good points about the benefits of gaming to engage us, particularly when she delves into the global social game movements that connect people across the world for information building, cooperative challenges and problem solving that could have an impact on the real world (which is the concluding premise — to solve world problems we need to create a gaming mentality). She also notes that the sheer number of hours that young people are playing, and the complexity of games that people are playing, is changing the way people interact with the world. And if you buy into the 10,000 hours argument of expertise (see Malcolm Gladwells’ Outliers), we are now seeing a generational wave of gaming experts emerging in our ranks. (Although, I wish those hours were creating more than just playing).

But I did find much of the middle of the book veering off a bit too much into happiness quotients and other topics that I had trouble buying into, and I found myself muttering at McGonigal more than once. Some of it felt wish-washy. I understand that she was trying to lay her groundwork for why gaming can positively impact reality, but I didn’t buy all of it. I’ll leave it at that for now.

Still, the book does a nice job of taking a step back from an individual gaming experience and argue on behalf of the gaming experience itself. And as a teacher who is still grappling with the possibilities of how to work gaming into my curriculum in a meaningful way, McGonigal is an experienced voice to turn to (watch some of her video presentations — she’s a great speaker). She really does know her games, and her gaming experiences as a designer were interesting to read about.

I’ll be interested to know how my NWP friends felt about the book when the discussion goes live sometime in early October. I have a ton of pages in Reality is Broken with note tabs, ready to be reviewed again in a few weeks.

Peace (in the game),


Supporting Teachers at Gamestar Mechanic

This summer, I used Gamestar Mechanic as a main portal into gaming with a summer camp program that I co-taught with another Western Massachusetts Writing Project colleague. We really liked the site as a teaching tool, and the kids (for the most part) thought it was a fun way to learn about game design. Basically, you play video games to learn about how to make video games, and then you make games that you publish to the Gamestar community. Not long after the camp ended, the folks at Gamestar emailed me to say they were starting a project to support teachers, and they were looking for lesson plans that used the site.

Would I contribute?

I was interested, but I told them that I was frankly a little tired of sites asking me to give my writing up for free. They countered with an offer to give me some membership perks if I submitted a lesson plan. I agreed. My lesson plan revolves around the connections between game design and the writing process, particularly around storyboarding or idea mapping. There are just three gaming lesson plans up on the site right now, but I can see it being valuable for teachers, whether they use Gamestar or not.

The Teacher Resources at Gamestar Mechanic

At the site, there are various resources for teachers — including informational handouts, videos and also a few sample games that you can play without a site membership, just to give you a taste of what the experience is about as a player. Really, though, it is the experience of the game creator that I have been most interested in these days. Gamestar is one way in to that idea.
Peace (in the gaming),
PS — I wrote about my resources at NWP’s Digital Is, but here they are again:
Anyway, if you are interested in looking at the resources that I created and posted:


Anyway, if you are interested in looking at the resources that I created and posted:

Game Design Ideas: Resources at NWP’s Digital Is

I kept meaning to share these links earlier this summer but then … eh … forgot. I created two new resources for the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site around gaming and learning and design. The two resources stem from a summer camp program that I ran with a co-teacher for middle school students, and as I was planning the camp, I was videoblogging my experiences. The second resource is about running a game design camp.

These are on my mind right now because I am considering one of two options: I might bring the idea of gaming into the sixth grade writing curriculum OR I might offer an after-school game development club for fourth, fifth and sixth graders. Or, I suppose, I could do both, right? I’m not sure yet.

Anyway, if you are interested in looking at the resources that I created and posted:

Feedback at the site or here is welcome. How have you used gaming? And I am most interested in the idea of how we can get our students to create games (active users), not just play games (passive users). This is the crucial shift that we need to make if we want to frame gaming as a learning possibility. I’m not convinced that all of the “gamification” of content area now flooding the Internet makes a lot of difference in how students learn. Oh, I am sure there are great games out there, and I am sure some of them are very engaging. But I want my kids to make things.


Peace (in the games),


Book Review: Rules of Play

One of the visitors to our recent Game Design Camp — Bryant Paul Johnson — lent me his copy of Rules of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, and while I won’t say it is an “easy summer read,” I can say that it is a book worth skimming and reading the summary sections if you have any interest in the ideas of play and gaming and design. Rules of Play is more a textbook than anything, but I found it pretty fascinating to jump into the theories of how we play, and how game design can tap into those elements of our personality.

It begins with the sentence: “This book is about games; all kinds of games.” And then it digs pretty deep. I really enjoyed the handful of narratives from folks who have designed games, as they “talked us” through their iterative process that begins with an idea, is developed slowly through trial and error and game playing, and then shifting into publishing. One section around the development of a Lord of the Rings board games was pretty fascinating.

The book delves into such topics as games as systems, the mechanics of how we play, games as cultural rhetoric and more. While the cost of Rules of Play may be somewhat prohibitive (about $30), Google Books has a version of it online as an ebook that provides enough of the text to make it worth a read. I found it useful in my own exploration of game design for learning.

Peace (in the play),

What I Like about … Gamestar Mechanic

I want to give a shout-out to the designers of Gamestar Mechanic, which is the web-based application we used for our Game Design Camp last week. I am not sure what I would have done without the site, to be honest, since so many other game creation applications that I tried came across as clunky, difficult to use and didn’t have the learning mechanisms built in as nicely as Gamestar Mechanic does. I’ll admit that those difficulties are more with me than the sites, given my fair level of inexperience. But Gamestar’s emphasis on the learning made all the difference in the world,
While we paid a little for our premium service at Gamestar, the site has free accounts for students and for teachers. The premium service opens up different possibilities and extends the abilities of users, but the free service would be a fine starting place for any teacher thinking about bringing gaming into the classroom. It’s important to note that Gamestar is about Game Design, and not about programming. I had some students in the camp who wished we had plunged into more programming of games. But we were all about game design.

What I like about Gamestar Mechanic:

  • Simple to set up a “classroom” account by teachers and easy to share the link with students for joining in. It literally took just a few minutes;
  • No email necessary for student accounts, although you would be better off linking the student accounts to a classroom/teacher email (in case passwords get lost);
  • Quests are designed for students to play games and learn gaming skills. I particularly liked that users have to “repair” broken games and learn about the elements of building games. Also, as you move through the Quests and other challenges, you “earn” more tools, such as sprites, backgrounds, music, etc. That reward system for playing the Quests was pretty powerful;
  • Graphic novel stories introduce the characters and the overall narrative of the Quests. Not every student read the graphic stories, but it appealed to certain kids, for sure;
  • As the teacher administrator of my gaming classroom, the site gave me data about my players. I could “see” how far my students were in their Quests, how many comments they had posted on other games and how many games they had designed — both in draft stage and in publishing stage. This would be valuable in a classroom learning setting;
  • I loved that the site kicks out some basic statistics for a student game creator, too — allowing you to see how many people started the game, how many finished, and what level was most difficult for users. I used this tool with a few students to revise their games;
  • It’s good to have a place in the site where users can play and experience top-rated games, see the various contest winners (we were playing some STEM games), and also view classmates’ games in our own classroom area. Known as Game Alley, this area became a regular destination for our gamers;
  • You can embed games and links to games created by students in other websites. The downside is that you have to be logged in as a user at a Gamestar to play the games. Or at least, that’s what it seemed to me. It may be that there is a time limit on how long a link is open to the public.
  • Tech support for Gamestar Mechanic was fantastic. Whenever I had a question, the tech people were back to me within a few hours, with answers. One student found a glitch in a Quest and when we emailed it to tech support, they were grateful for the discovery and gave kudos to the students (and also, a special little award badge that you collect in Gamestar).

Thoughts from students about Gamestar Mechanic:

  • They wished they could do more player vs. player game design. The site is only set up for player vs. computer.
  • They wanted to manipulate more of the controls of sprites and design elements.
  • They wanted to upload their own backgrounds and music and create their own sprites from scratch.
  • They wanted more game immersion possibilities (first person)

Overall, it was a very positive experience to use Gamestar Mechanic for the camp, and I would highly recommend it as a starting point for game design in the classroom.
Peace (in the mechanic),

Musing Afterwards: Gaming Reflections 8

I know I shared the video collage yesterday from our game design camp but I wanted to do one final video reflection to wrap up some thoughts around the camp and the possibilities for the classroom. These videos are becoming part of a collection I am developing over at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site around game design and learning, and how a teacher dips their toes into the water.

Peace (in the reflections),