Video Game Design: Storyframes as Narrative Architecture

Moving into a unit about video game design also means talking about how to tell a story in ways different than a short story or traditional narrative. I talk to my students about how they should see their science-based video game as a story that the reader will play. They should be entertained, and challenged, and also educated about cells (the science topic that is the centerpiece of the video game design project)

I’ve come to call this the “storyframe” of the video game (rhyming is helpful technique). The story is the narrative wrapper in which the game play itself is situated.

Of all the elements of our game design, this is one of the trickiest for my students. First of all, there are the confines of Gamestar Mechanic, which allows text in the title of the start of the game and at every level, but not a whole lot of room. Students can earn message blocks, which are handy, and they can earn some sprites that “talk” (via text messages).

What must occur is the use of metaphor (this represents that), focused narrative text that moves the player/reader along on their journey through the game system, and a sense of flow. That’s a lot to ask for from a sixth grader, but they can do it. It does require me to be conferencing a lot, reminding them of what good games do (and how to make a game better), and feedback from peers during the initial stages of design.

You know what the best resource is for this discussion around storyframes? The Magic School Bus series. No one did it better, particularly when we talk about science and storytelling. And, what franchise effectively jumped across mediums so well? From picture books to television show to video games, The Magic School Bus showed how transmedia can work.

Building that kind of story? Well, that’s what my students are in the midst in right now.

Peace (in the construction of story),
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: 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

All the Literacy Points of the Imaginary Lands

Lands

Over at by Working Draft blog at Middleweb, I wrote about a project called The Peaceful Imaginary Land Brochure Project as part of a way to talk to my students about our school’s Peacebuilder’s Pledge in a different way (beyond mouthing the words as a school every morning.)

I did not share the above graphic there, but I had worked on this image as I was thinking through all of the literacy points with the project as a way to document the student learning. As I added more and more elements, I realized just how expansive this one project can be, and on how many points of writing, reading, listening and speaking it hits.

Peace (in the lands),
Kevin

Exploring Peace, Love and Understanding

Here is a collection of some of the artwork from our sixth graders as part of their Peace Poster projects (done with our art teacher). The theme of the year was Peace, Love and Understanding.

I can’t help but hear Elvis Costello in my head when I think about the theme .. but of course, not one of my students even knows who he is. In a former band, we used to play a punk style version of this classic tune, and it still resonates with me.

Peace (in the art),
Kevin

The Power of Student Voice: Artist Statements on Peace

These class podcasts come from a Lions Club-sponsored Peace Poster project that our sixth graders do with our wonderful art teacher. As a companion piece to the art work, we have them write an artist statement, reflecting on the symbols and colors and other design elements in their piece and a bit about why peace is so important for the world. The artist statements then get attached to the posters, which are displayed all around our school.

Peace (in the peace),
Kevin

Password Protection Inc.

passwords for mr h

As part of our Digital Life unit, we talk a lot about passwords. One of their activities is to imagine they have been hired by us teachers, who are too lazy to create strong passwords, and they have to to come up with a memorable, yet secure, password for each of us. They have to use what they know about us as teachers, or as people outside of school.

They then test out their passwords with this great site: How Secure is My Password? The site really gets them thinking about the role of numbers and characters in password creation. The prompt engages them in a fun way that then leads us to reflect back on their own use of passwords in their digital lives.

I had my students write their recommendation for me down on a sticky note and put it on a whiteboard. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • harrisburdickwriter
  • HedgeHog41
  • E&Lart2
  • Doyourlunchcount
  • Sax-o-phone
  • RRGiants50
  • Books$1234book$

Peace (in the word),
Kevin