Book Review: Gaming the System (Designing with Gamestar Mechanic)

This book – Gaming the System: Designing with Gamestar Mechanic — could not have arrived at a better time. I am knee-deep in our science-based video game design project right now, and while I have done gaming for a few years now and have a pretty solid handle on it, this look at game design through the lens of systems provides me with a fresh insight into the learning that is going on each day in my classroom.

The book is part of a series put out by MIT Press called INTERCONNECTIONS: Understanding Systems Through Digital Design.  There was a NWP Blogtalk radio show with the writers/editors that is worth checking out. I should note that I was an early reader of another book in this series, and received a free version of that book for my time and effort. But I did not read this one on gaming and bought for it myself. Also, the National Writing Project is one of the partners in the putting together the series, so I do know some of the folks involved.

This book, while somewhat pricey for a cash-strapped teacher, gives a powerful look at the potential of game design, connections to literacy and science standards, and plays out like a how-to guide for getting started and how to push kids further into complex thinking. It references Gamestar Mechanic as its base of game design (a site which I also use) and includes numerous screenshots, handouts, reference sheets and lesson plan ideas for implementing gaming in a constructivist approach.

And all of this is done through the lens of “systems,” which is a conceptual frame of thinking of the whole being a sum of its parts, and how changes in one part of the system change the whole. Think of weather patterns. Or political maps. Or airports. Or manufacturing. While those are pretty advanced systems to consider for young people, game design makes it real by bringing them into a system they understand, and showing how a designer’s intentional approach changes the system of the game. It’s a brilliant approach, really, and I realize now that I have been teaching Systems withou quite realizing it, and without using some of the domain specific vocabulary that I now have in my pocket for our work in the classroom.

Here is a quote that helps frame this concept:

A game can be considered a system because how the game is played and how the game play unfolds are the results of multiple interactions among different components … It’s important to be able to reflect not only on how a system might be functioning currently, but also on how a designer might have intended it to operate (or intended to change it). — page 200-201

I’ve bookmarked a fair number of pages in my copy of Gaming the System, and I intend to share it with my science colleague (whom is my partner in our game design project) and if my new principal walks in for an observation and wonders why everyone is playing video games in ELA class, I have some materials to help me make my case about the value of our science-based video game design project.

Peace (in the system),
Kevin

Gauging Student Interest in the STEM Video Game Challenge

 

There’s a caveat to this post: my sixth graders have only just started the design stage of a science-based video game project. But I have already introduced them to the possibility of submitting their final video games (still a few weeks away from completion) to the National STEM Video Game Challenge.

Among other things, I am trying to help my students see an audience much larger than our classroom and to view their project as something with more potential than just a grade from me for the work they do. I want them to be creating a piece of digital work for the world.

Sure, it might be that the potential rewards and recognition is what interests them in this kind of video game design challenge. That’s OK. Extrinsic rewards can provide a path to intrinsic rewards, and I am already noticing a deep consideration of story, game design, quality and science as they begin moving from brainstorming and storyboarding into the design phase of their game projects on Gamestar Mechanic (which is a partner with the video challenge, meaning students can submit games into the STEM Video Game Challenge right through Gamestar, which makes things a bit easier on our end).

This graph shows the results of a question as part of the brainstorming process: Would you be interested in submitting your science-based game to the STEM Video Game Challenge? I am pleased at how many are considering that option (with the understanding that anyone can change their mind later on).

Interest in STEM Video Game Competition

Time to make the games …

Peace (in the challenge),
Kevin

The Good and the Bad (of Game Design)

As we begin our video game design unit, we spent time talking about and working with games. The other day, we wrote and then discussed the elements of game design, with the question of what makes a good game good and a bad game bad? Here are word clouds with the main ideas shared by students over four classes. (Note: we did not focus on video games specifically, but any game — board, card, recess, sports, etc.)

As they begin designing their own science-based video games in the coming days, we will be referring back to these word clouds as a guide for them to remember what makes a game good and what potentially makes a game boring.

Interestingly, this is the first year that advertising and in-app purchases became part of our conversations. Most were annoyed about the “free” entry to a game, only to be confronted by pop-up ads or in-app purchases needed to move to another level or gain some new tools. That led to a discussion about “business models” and a reminder that non-tech games don’t have those intrusions.

Nor do games that you make and create yourself …

Good Game Design

Bad Game Design
Peace (in the share),
Kevin

Slice of Life: You Go, Girls

(This is part of Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments. You write, too.)

SOL

They were standing in line, waiting to put the laptops back on the computer cart. We’d been gaming in the classroom, working with Gamestar Mechanic to begin the process of understanding video game design by playing and analyzing games. This week, they will start the initial stages of storyboarding and building their own science-based video games.

“Girls don’t like video games,” he said to no one in particular, and there was a moment of silence as all the girls turned around to stare at him. He seemed taken aback. “I mean, they don’t right? Girls don’t like video games?”

He spoke that last line as if he walked into a pit of vipers because there was a sudden burst of loud response from the girls. I think I saw a few of his friends shake their heads, knowing what was coming.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Of course, I like video games. I’m probably better than you.”

“We may not like the same games, but we like games.”

He seemed a bit shaken by the response. That’s good.

“Sorry, sorry,” he mumbled, and that gave me a teaching moment to talk to the class about the stereotypes we have of gender and technology. It’s true not every girl likes video games. Not every boy likes video games, either. But some girls are great at both playing and designing video games. And we had just had a long discussion on game design elements, where plenty of girls shared deep thoughts about design and and the games they played. (Had he even been listening?)

I think he got it. I do. And if not, the girls are going to set him straight. Count on that.

Peace (in the room),
Kevin

Slice of Life: She Makes Worlds

(This post is part of the regular Slice of Life series over at Two Writing Teachers.)
kait game collage

Yesterday, my sixth graders all set up and started using their new accounts in Gamestar Mechanic as we gear up for a Video Game Design unit in which they will be designing, building and publishing video games to show knowledge of cellular structure. I’ll write about that another day …

But as I was getting ready to invite this year’s sixth graders into our “classroom” on Gamestar, I began weeding some former students out. I let them stay in the premium space until I need their slots for my classroom account, and then I boot them out. They all know this, so it won’t be a surprise, and they don’t lose their work. They just lose their premium status (unless they want to pay Gamestar). As I was removing students, I noticed something that caught my eye.

One of my students had not only created 61 video games, she had also reviewed 1,140 games of other players and left 2,120 comments on other people’s games. Now, that’s a lot, and I wondered what was going on with her since she left our school last June. I know she loved the site, and that she is very social by nature, but even for her, this amount of activity seemed excessive.

So, I trolled her account a bit, checking out her games, and it turns out, she was up to something very interesting. Throughout the summer, she had been constructing an informal network of other gaming kids to create a series of game design challenges, using the comment box/review box features for the games to organize the network of other kids. They would plan “meet” times in Gamestar, and then leave a thread of comments as they planned out the next activity, and then go through a voting system, and then announce the winners with a published game. They “followed” each other to keep track of the activity.

On one hand, this is the most inefficient system to do this kind of community building. The site is just not built for this. On the other hand, I am so proud of her for hacking the system to make it work for her, to some degree, and for constructing this whole framework of young gamers in Gamestar Mechanic. Reading through just some of the comment threads (there is no way I can get through 2,000 of them), I can see these kids navigating what it means to write in online spaces and using media to create things together and to find common ground among interests.

All of this … on their own, completely outside of the radar of any adults, as far as I know. I only stumbled upon it accidentally. Needless to say, I did NOT bump HER from my classroom account. I’m going to give her the room she needs to do what she’s doing, and see where it takes her.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

Launching a K12Online Conference Game

k12gamemap

(Click on the image to go to the K12Online Video Game)

I suggested to the various colleagues/presenters in the Game Design/Gamification strand of the K12Online Conference that we try to design a game for participants of the conference to play. The goal was to use game design principles to engage participants in the presentations (still being released over the next few weeks) in ways beyond just “viewing.”

There are two phases to what I came up with. The first phase is a simple video game built in Gamestar Mechanic. You play the video game, collecting “PD points” to unlock the Golden Block of Innovation and avoiding the boring professional PD monsters (ie, slow-moving dragons) who will bore you to death with their droning-talking-presenting, and when you win by getting to the Golden Block of Innovation, you are given a website URL where the second phase of the game takes place.

In that second phase, you earn points by doing things like viewing a K12Online Conference video, sharing with a friend, posting a comment, and earning bonus points for various things. There’s a Tally Sheet right at the link where folks can keep track of their points. And hey .. everyone’s a winner in this game. We just hope that folks get more engaged in the content and in the innovative ideas being presented. The game is the nudge forward into sharing and engagement.

(What? You’re impatient? You want to get right to the second phase and avoid the video game? Sheesh. OK.  Find the direct link to Phase Two hidden somewhere in this blog post and uncover the shortcut. It’s here. It’s not easy to find but it’s here in this blog post, somewhere. Think of it like a Scavenger Hunt round. If you find it, give yourself a point.)

Or go play the video game.

Peace (in the gaming of the conference),
Kevin

Game On – the K12Online Collection

I was fortunate to be the keynote speaker for the K12Online Conference strand of Gamification and Game Design this year. I was also fortunate that others in the strand took on gamification, so that I could focus on video game design for learning. Here are all of the strand’s videos, and they are all well worth your time if you are interesting in gaming for learning.













Peace (in the game),
Kevin
 

A Game Design Keynote Teaser for K12Online

I am honored to be one of the keynote presenters for the 2014 K12Online Conference, which is set to launch tomorrow (Monday) with a week of presentations around gaming, game design and gamification. Here is the video teaser that I made, talking as I play a student video game.

The name of my keynote presentation, also set for release tomorrow (Monday), is Game On: How Design and Play Impact Learning. I even dance in the keynote. I know. I know. The things a presenter will do to get your attention …

My keynote has less to do with overall gamification ideas and more to do with game design elements can be learning elements in the classroom, with a focus on my own sixth graders’ Science-based Video Game Design project.

You can find the full schedule of the K12Online Conference here, and be sure to check out Wesley Fryer’s opening salvo, Igniting Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

Peace (in the learning along with you)
Kevin

 

The Game Is Part of the Story of Us


I’ve been in and out of the Making Learning Connected MOOC in the past few days because I was up in New Hampshire with old friends. We gather every year (for at least the past 20 years) to catch on our lives and play what we call our own Pool Championship of the World. We have a whole round robin system of playing and we gather from quite a long distance to come together,

I was thinking about my long weekend with my friends because the CLMOOC Make Cycle of gaming is sort of winding down (although the cycles are always open for anyone to jump in when they want) with a call for some reflection by facilitators Joe and Terry about what has been going on with games this past week or so.

In New Hampshire, we played billiards. But what we really did was tell stories, and we used the game itself as an anchor to stay connected with each other. Our tournament is a means to bring us together, and yes, we play both seriously and for fun, and yet, the game itself is little more than a connective anchor that we share together.

The game is part of the story of us.

And I think that is true of what happened this week in the CLMOOC, as hashtag play became game pieces on Twitter, poetry was passed around and tinkered with, photos became a means for rule creation for very short narratives, current events led participants to create games to make commentary, video games were played and created, and I even led a Folded Story game in which many people added lines to an unfolding story that none of us knew how it would end.

I ended up doing a podcast of the entire story, using Vocaroo. (It’s 9 minutes long, so grab a drink and snack before you listen)

Audio recording and upload >>

Games are getting a lot of attention these days in education circle, and Joe and Terry kicked off this Make Cycle by reminding us of the stories that lay behind the games we play and the games we create. This can be a point of contention in the gaming world — whether a game needs a narrative arc or not. For us, in the CLMOOC, the answer is a resounding “yes” because, just like with my friends and our pool championship, the games are now part the story of us.

Media bubbles
(Part of Scott’s Game of Using a Common Photo for a 15 Word Story)

Peace (beyond the game),
Kevin