What It Looks Like When We Hack Chess

hack chess collage 2013
My sixth graders have been working in collaborative groups to hack the game of chess, with new pieces and new rules on how to play. I’ll share more later as part of a larger collaborative DS106 radio project but this collage nicely captures some of the work they are doing to invent new board games out of traditional ideas.

Peace (in the hack),


Why I Played Twitter vs. Zombies (3)

tvsz3 timeline
This weekend, the third iteration of the Twitter-based hashtag game called Twitter vs. Zombies took place, and I joined in when I could. I was part of the first iteration last year, never knew about the second earlier this year, and only heard about the third iteration from a friend in DS106 … on Twitter, of course.

The game is a bit difficult to explain, as the rules shift as the game progresses but essentially it is a large, virtual game of tag. Some of the main ideas are:

  • Twitter becomes the “game board” where the action takes place;
  • Hashtags — such as #bite and #dodge — are the actions that players take in the game;
  • The goal of the game: Zombies try to turn all humans in zombies, and humans try to avoid getting turned into zombies;
  • Players begin as humans and then become zombies, and then maybe back to humans;
  • The game unfolds over three days of activity;
  • Collectives of humans seek to outrun zombies, who also work in teams to get the humans;
  • The moderators add new rules and twists to the game once or twice a day;
  • Sense of humor required.

But even that list of my own understanding of the Twitter vs. Zombies game doesn’t do it justice.  When we think about how to leverage the possibilities of the Web and its various spaces for collaborative and interactive experiences, this kind of game is what we are talking about. Think about an interactive experience that unfolds over a number of days, in which people who don’t know each other must collaborate, and be creative, to accomplish a goal … that’s really what Twitter vs. Zombies is all about, for me.

Plus, I had a blast playing it. And I created comics, Vine videos, word clouds, music mixes and more as a way to add my own media touch into the game atmosphere.

Twitter vs Zombies 3

Last time I played, I think I wrote about wondering how this sort of uncentered game experience might translate into the classroom. Not as Twitter vs. Zombies, perhaps, but some variation of it in which our students are engaged in a global gaming structure that requires deftness, creativity and collaboration. I’m still wondering about that.

I want to thank the moderators of the weekend’s game. Even though I got bitten and turned into a Zombie early in the game (I was teaching on Friday when the game began) and never got an antidote from anyone to turn back to human (and by Sunday, I was ready — I just couldn’t announce it … or could I have?), I had a blast, popping in and out of the action as our busy family life allowed. Engaging in Twitter vs. Zombies reminded me again of the many ways that technology and the connected world can transform how we think about learning and playing.

Peace (coming out of the darkness),


The Start of the Year Video Game

Our weekly writing prompt over at the iAnthology had us thinking recently of telling the story of teaching via game theory. I went in another direction and created this video game to share over there, and here.

Peace (in the game),

Planet Portal Video Game Stats and Maps

game stats for planet portal
I want to thank everyone who gave my video game a try the other day. I had asked friends to play my game, Planet Portal, so that I could share with my high school students some of the useful data stats generated by Gamestar Mechanic as part of a lesson around game design. The image above is what got generated by the play of my game, level by level. You can see how many people started the game and how many ended, and where they abandoned the game along the way. This is a critical piece of information around design because it helps the designer find a balance between easy and difficult.

And here are the level maps from my game, in case you are interested.
Planet Portal Screenshots collection

Plus, if you want to try Planet Portal, you can do that, too.

Peace (in the game),


Please Play My Game: Planet Portal

If you have a moment, can you play this video game that I made? It’s a “mentor text” for a digital literacies workshop and I want to show my high school students how you can use the “stats” function in Gamestar Mechanic. But I need to have enough people playing through to gather enough stats to show.

Play Planet Portal

Peace (in the game),

ELL Students and Video Game Design Storyboarding

Summer Power Vid Game Storyboard
In our digital literacies workshop for high school English Language Learners, we are deep into our science-based video game design project. The past few days, we talked a lot about how to think through what a game will look like, tying in the “design” elements to the planning stages. The kids then worked on a storyboarding activity as a way to get their thoughts down before launching into Gamestar Mechanic to build their games. (See a post that I had done for Gamestar Mechanic about storyboarding process and lesson.)

There’s always some resistance to this stage of game design. Kids just want to jump in. But I insist on the storyboarding element, and liken it to the rough draft stage of writing. Sure, the game might move in other directions when it is finally underway, but the storyboard is a road map of ideas. In the end, even those who fought me on this activity were grateful that they were able to articulate some ideas, and the storyboard itself becomes a place to have more focused discussions with students about their games.

In addition, for ELL students, the storyboard is a non-threatening way to write, as it combines art and short narrative text, and symbolic thought. The students in this summer are all struggling writers, but I suspect we have gotten more writing out of them in their daily journals and in projects like the video game storyboarding than their regular teachers do. I can’t say that for sure. It’s anecdotal. But it seems like even the most struggling writers have been deeply involved in what we have been doing.

Now, with four days left in the program, it’s on to developing and publishing their video games and completing online portfolios. Plenty of time …

Peace (in the writing about writing),

PS — if you have interest in video game design, you can check out the resource site that we created at my school, and feel free to use any of the resources there.


Teacher Mentor Storyboarding for Video Game Design

I’ve mentioned that I am teaching a digital literacies workshop for high school students (English Language Learners) this summer and we are now moving deep into our video game design unit. Their task is to design, build and publish a science-based video game on Gamestar Mechanic, and their game has to be a few levels deep and tell a story. It’s a lot to ask of these students, but they’ve risen to the challenge all summer, and I suspect the games will be amazing.

I am a big advocate of planning out a game first. So, last week, they were brainstorming on paper some of the ideas around story, challenge, and theme to the games they will be building. Next up is storyboarding, which is a way that I explicitly tie in the game design process with the writing process — making visible the connections on how people work to create things, from brainstorming to drafting to sharing to revising to publishing.

To help them think about storyboarding out their games, which they will begin on Monday, I have been one step ahead of them, working on my own game. Not only does this send a message to the group that “I am with you” on this journey, but it also provides my colleague and I with an opportunity to share out the process of game design, making the steps more visible.

So, during a brainstorm session, I came up with the idea of using the Solar System as my science theme, and the story is that the player/character has unexpectedly found themselves off of Earth and they need to get back home (this is the Quest of the game). Different levels will represent different planets, and the player/character has to find the “portal” that will bring them to the next level, and eventually, back to Earth to win the game.

Here are the storyboard pages from the first levels of my game.

Star Portal Storyboard

At this point, I have only created the start of the first level. There is a tool in Gamestar Mechanic that allows you to create a screenshot of levels (a tool that I love to use, and encourage all of my students to use). Here is an overview, then, of the first level of my game.

Star Portal level 1 map

Want to play the first level? Give Star Portal a try. It’s a game in process …

Peace (in the game),


Hacking PacMan in Gamestar Mechanic

Hacking Pacman collage
One of the first activities I have students do in Gamestar Mechanic as we move into video game design is to “hack” a traditional video game and make it their own. This all ties into some of the earlier work in our digital literacies workshop for high school students about the hacking and remixing culture. This summer, the task was to Hack PacMan, which grounded a lot of our discussions around topics such as top-down versus platformer; the use of backgrounds and colored blocks; the levels of complexity between an impossible game and an easy game; and more.

The simplicity of the classic game itself — basically a one-screen maze with a task and enemies — allows an entry point for just about everyone, from seasoned game veterans to newbies. It’s interesting to see where they take the concept of Pacman, too, as some try to replicate the original and others barely acknowledge PacMan in their game.

Want to try one of the games out?

Peace (in the maze),



Assigning Game Projects in Gamestar Mechanic


A few weeks ago, I was talking with one of the folks at Gamestar Mechanic, and she asked if I had begun using the “projects” element of the site (which teaches students about video game design and then allows them to build and publish their own video games). As it turns out, while I have a teacher account for my classroom activities, I regularly use a student account that I created, so that I can “see” what student see. So, I had not even know the project option was there.

Boy, am I glad it is. It’s a growing wealth of templated, adaptable projects that a teacher can assign their students, allowing a teacher to track progress, give feedback in updates, and keep the focus on a particular game idea. There are projects covering science and social studies, and basic and advanced game design. You can even create your own (which I have done here for my summer camp, where I want them to create a version of PacMan as an early assignment).

What’s nice, too, is that each project comes with a sizeable bank of characters and tools. This is important because students earn those tools and sprites as they play through the Quests. You start out with a minimum amount of tools. Using the projects allows students contained access to a nice range of options not otherwise available early in the gaming.

Peace (in the game),