A Look Inside Student Science-based Video Games

Here is a screenshot/video capture look at some of the science-based video games my students are creating, along the science-based theme of cells. You can see a bit about how they are using text and story to frame their game within a science and narrative context. The project weaves game design, science and narrative story together, and many students are now either done or finishing up.

Peace (in the cell),
Kevin

The Video Games They Play

As I was reading and assessing video game reviews by my students, I created a list of the games they chose to write about. Here is a Word Cloud of the most popular of the video games in the mix for my young writers:

Game review 2014

You’ll see that Minecraft is there, front and center. No surprise. But Trivia Crack? Lots of girls are playing the app, apparently, and if the reviews are right, it is a social game of sorts with trivia. Never heard of it. There are some games that make this list year after year, and others that come out of nowhere, depending on culture and games introducing during the year. Crossy Road … another one I had not heard of, but apparently it is a variation on Frogger.

While the game review does not have to be a video game, only one of my students chose a board game this year. All others were video games on assorted platforms.

Here is a review podcast of a student reviewing Metroid Blast:

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

 

Student Game Review: The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess

As a companion to our game design unit, my students also write (and many podcast out) persuasive game reviews. The lesson is to integrate writing into our understanding of game design and writing with authority on a topic. Plus, I get a better sense of what games my students are playing year to year (It’s not easy to keep up).

Here is a review of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Peace (in the voice),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Tiny Tiny Writing from a Digital Native

(This is a Slice of Life, a regular writing activity facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. Come write with us.)

SOL

I’ve often harped on and on against using the dichotomy of the digital natives versus the digital immigrants. It’s a false dichotomy to say that young people “get” technology and adults don’t. ¬†All of us are in the middle, depending on the situation and context and technology. And yet, every now and then, a student will do something that has me scratching my head, discovering some workaround they figured out that I would not have thought about.

This one from yesterday had me scratching my head, and also giggling out loud.

A little pretext: my students are working on a persuasive piece of writing in which they review a video game. It was due yesterday, and one of my students was on a family weekend ski trip, so she worked on her paragraph in the car on the way North. Apparently, all she had was an iPod, so she found one of the Art/Drawing Apps, and used the text feature to write her paragraph that way (Can you get that picture in your mind? This kid in the cramped back seat of the family car, huddled over an iPod, tap-typing in a program designed for drawing?)

She could not figure out how to print it out, so her mother emailed me the file and asked that I print it out, which I had gladly do if necessary. But when I opened up the file, this is what I saw:

tiny writing

 

Yes, tiny tiny type. If anything, my screenshot does not do justice to how small those words really are. So small, in fact, that when I held it in my hands, it was like looking at a collection of ants on the page. (Granted, I have old eyes … digital immigrant eyes?) It reminded me of that famous scene in Spinal Tap, with the tiny Stonehenge on stage. You know what I’m talking about, right?

‘This Is Spinal Tap’ – ‘Stonehenge’ from filmc3ption on Vimeo.

Anyway, the student and I were both amused at the paper I printed out. She even declared, “I can read it just fine, Mr. H,” and then bent down, eyes very close to the paper, and started to read it to me …. before bursting out laughing.

Last night, they tried a few ways to get the text bigger but of course, the app converted the text into the drawing itself, making the text un-editable, so it is final. In the end, they took a screenshot of the writing and sent that to me, and that’s just fine.

Peace (in the tiny tiny writing),
Kevin

Video Game Design: Sara’s Into an Animal Cell Game

One of my students has published her video game that we have been working on as a collaboration between my ELA classroom and the science classroom. The topic of the game is cells, and you can tell that the mentor texts we used (Magic School Bus) had a big influence on Sara, who has emerged as one of the top video game designers in the sixth grade.

Give Inside an Animal Cell a try and see what you think.

sara Into an Animal Cell game

Peace (in the cell),
Kevin

Video Game Design: Playtesting and Feedback

Playtesting Peer Review 2014
In designing games, as in writing, a valuable step to the process is to gather feedback from someone outside of your own head. During our science-based video game design unit, we play-test each other’s games, and work on giving feedback to what is noticed. While this happens quite a bit informally (“Hey, anyone want to try my game?” – a pretty common refrain in my classroom these days), I do try to formalize it a bit. The form we use comes from a new book on systems thinking, but I also had a similar form that I had made on my own.

I like how this new form incorporates the warm/cool feedback concept, and allows for reaction notes from the game designer. Obviously, this activity began with a mini-lesson on giving constructive feedback to other game designers, and how to use warm/cool feedback on someone else’s work.

It’s still interesting how some students read and accept the feedback, and ask for clarification from the play-testers, making adjustments to their projects, while others just shrug and go on as if the process never happened. They can’t get out of their own heads, and see the game objectively (“Well, I BEAT that level. You should, too. It’s easy.” — a student said this to me the other day. Me: “Well, you BUILT that level, so you know it inside and out. It’s not easy at all if you don’t know it.”). This is part of the learning process.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

 

Video Game Design: Storyboarding the Game

Cell Video Game Storyboard Collage 2014

One of the things I force my students to pay attention to (some resist) is the concept of storyboarding out their science-based video game projects. But I know, from experience, how important it is to have a map forward, even if you abandon the map along the way for more creative terrain.

As a teacher, the storyboard also provides me with a way to see what they are thinking as they begin the design phase, as well as gives us discussion points on which to talk through the game design, science concepts and story ideas in a workshop-style mode.

You can read more about what I wrote about storyboarding, including the sharing of resources, over at the Gamestar Mechanic teacher site, from a few years ago.

Peace (in the boards),
Kevin

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