We’re nearing the end of our video game design unit. Here are a few of the Hero’s Quest games created by my sixth graders that I think showed good use of story and game design. Not all are easy to play and to win (although I have, as I graded them for story and design).
I forgot about this post and left it inside my draft bin as other things came up. A few weeks ago, I did a BookSnaps project with my students — using Google Draw to annotate the first page of an independent book, and then created this video with the results.
One of the many writing activities that I do with my sixth grade students as part of our video game development unit (which is taught in writing class) is to write a letter to Gamestar Mechanic about their project, what they like about the site, and some ideas for making Gamestar even better.
I’ll be mailing the letters off in early January.
I don’t know if we will get a response from the company (my main contacts no longer work there and Gamestar is part of the larger eLine Media) but the act of writing to Gamestar — a site we we have been using rather extensively since the start of December — and articulating some ideas gives me a chance to see what they are thinking. The letter follows a community brainstorming about features they wish the site had.
The letters act as one sort of reflective end point as they finish up their games.
I’m continuing to share out elements of our Video Game Design Project, as my students race to the finish line with publishing and reflecting on their work of the past weeks with designing, creating and publishing an original video game with a Hero’s Journey story-frame narrative.
Today, I’d like to share about our Video Game Print Advertisement Campaign assignment, in which we explore the art of advertising and then turn the students loose on making a print advertisement for their own projects. After holiday break, we will hang them up all over the room and hallways.
We begin with a presentation that allows us to closely examine the way video game advertisements are constructed, noting layout, art, lettering and other elements.
Then, I turn the class over to my paraprofessional colleague, who was a graphic artist for various companies before becoming an educator. I am grateful every day for her presence in the classroom. Beyond her skills as a support educator, her knowledge of art and layout is expansive, so she becomes the teacher during this part of our activity. She provides visual examples of works in progress …
Students have to lightly draft out their advertisements in pencil, and then go through a process of creation (after proofreading): blocking out letters and images, erasing pencil marks, coloring in the page. They have a lot of fun with this assignment — art connected to writing connected to design — and seeing them working so hard at something they love to do is always a nice experience.
The results run the gamut — it depends on how careful a student is being, really — but taken together, the ads are always impressive and the posters become visual invitations to play the video game projects that have been working so hard on.
My students reviewed video games through a design lenses, with a persuasive element to the writing. They could either choose a game they like, or one they don’t like, and write a review of various elements in relation to our work in class with game design principles (visuals, audio, game play, effectiveness, etc.)
These are a few of the video game reviews from this year. What games do you play?
(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
I introduced a game-style activity yesterday for our vocabulary lessons called Mystery Word, where you give a series of escalating clues for the guesser to guess the word. Honestly, I needed about twice the time I allocated for this during classtime (we had other things to get to, too), and it all felt too rushed to be as effective as I wanted it to be.
Next time … more time.
This is my very simple sample (which I followed with a sample of a word from our class vocabulary list):
But, the students really enjoyed the challenge of coming up with clues that pointed to a vocabulary word without giving it away completely at the start. I had them write the clues out on notecards, which we then distributed around the room. A better version would have been to have each one read the clues, one clue at time, to a partner, and use our listening skills to locate the words. And I probably should have done more quick mini-lessons on syllables, Parts of Speech, rhyming, etc.
I didn’t make up the Mystery Words activity, and I was trying to remember where it came from. I think it is both a variation of a Mystery Number activities that our math teacher does earlier in the year (complex clues to find a number) and an adaptation of a lesson from a writing project teacher who co-taught a digital writing summer project for struggling high school students with me as my English as a Second Language partner, and I gleaned a lot of vocabulary acquisition ideas from her work.
The game-and-guess format makes for an engaging time, and adds a wrinkle to learning and using new words.
My students are not just playing video games all December for our Game Design Unit. We do lots of writing, although most of it is “sneaky” writing on my part — smaller, quick reflection points mixed with larger, more formal writing. A few years ago, for a presentation, I began to chart out the various writing assignments that take place (as much to document our work as to justify any questions from parents and administrators).
Today, they are working on the writing of their persuasive Video Game Review assignment, crafting an argument about a video game through the lens of design features (controls, visuals, sound, etc.) Meanwhile, some students are starting to finish and publish their video game projects, and getting other kids from around the world in Gamestar Mechanic to play and give feedback on their projects.
Photo: This West Park sculpture in Birmingham, Ala., commemorates the four little girls killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing on Sept. 15, 1963. Denise McNair, 11; Carolyn Robertson, 14; Addie Mae Collins, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14.
There are many reasons why I could not fathom the rise and candidacy of Roy Moore in Alabama. But I read deep enough into the election from many sources to be reminded again that different parts of the country, particularly some sectors of the rural South, see the world very different from my perch here in liberal Massachusetts.
Still, this morning, when I read that Doug Jones won over Moore in that Alabama special election for Senate, I felt myself exhale and go … phew! I don’t expect Jones to be the progressive candidate I personally would like — that is not his constituency — but … phew.
Here’s another reason why I really wanted Jones to win (other than a thumb to the eye of Trump and another thorn in the side of the GOP-run Senate): Jones was the U.S. Attorney who helped prosecute the racist white supremacists who had bombed the church in Alabama that killed four little girls (and injured other children) that is the heart of the book we read in my classroom — The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.
I always start the book with Curtis’ dedication page, in which he names the four girls who were killed, and we talk about what the dates next to the names mean (how young they were and how they were all killed on the same day). At the end of the novel, we circle back around, and talk about the girls and use primary sources to understand the Civicl Rights and the toll it took on so many people and families.
Now, when we read that book, I can point to Jones as one of the people who would not let that crime go unpunished, even though it took decades to identify and prosecute those responsible, and Jones’ rise to the US Senate is partly built on that experience.
I’ve been sharing out about our class work with merging video game design and story-telling, and my reminder to my sixth grade students about the importance of story. In a recent Gamer’s Journal reflection, I asked them to remind me of their game story-frame.
Here are some of the examples, which are a good indication of how my young writer/gamers are thinking of narrative in terms of game design.
The story frame is that a young magician is trying to get revenge on another older magician that has gotten him in trouble and fired his favorite teacher for standing up for him. Your player is his servant and you must make the older magician look bad in return by stealing one of his magical devices, but that won’t be easy. The hardest part of building my game was making sure that it fit the story accurately.
It is called “Lab X: the experiment”. It is about a scientist who is new at Lab X, and is told to see how an experiment ended up. He heads up to the room in which they conduct experiments, to discover that the experiment turned everyone else into monsters. Then he tries to escape with only the help of a few robots to instruct him.
It is about a girl named Amy trying to find her long lost brother. He was taken from her and her family about a year ago. He was taken by evil creatures or the creatures of death. But in the second level you are her brother trying to escape from the creatures.
The story-frame of my game is that Tyson (the character) is trying to save someone he knows Percy from Tartarus. There are 4 levels and Tyson starts at the Empire State Building and has to make it through the Empire State Building, the Underworld, and Tartarus alive. He will face monsters on his way, too.
My story is about a young hero who wakes up in a wonderland after defeating Gregor the Great, (or so he thinks,) A great wizard that needs “sun-gems” for power. Roger G. will guide the hero through the wonderland so they can get the sun-gems to leave and thwart Gregor before it’s too late.
My game is about sprites who are able to fly, and use their abilities on a daily basis. However, the new King has restricted their ability to fly. None of the sprites like this, and the player is chosen to go challenge the king to get back their right to fly.
My video game follows the story of a heroine who finds the courage to go save the princess. The princess has been kidnapped (or I guess you could say princess-napped), by the Evil Oracle, who brings her to a secret chamber within a volcano. He puts her under a mind control, so she listens to everything he says. The heroine first escapes the kingdom, which is under a sort of lockdown. The next step is to venture through the Dark Forest, where she must battle three evil sprites to collect the Keys of the Forest, which allow you to safely leave. Lastly, the heroine must battle the Evil Oracle, who told the princess to jump into the volcano. She defeats him, and must rescue the princess, who will unknowingly attack you, without harming her.
I would like to give you an update on my game I titled “The Treasure Rescue”. My game is about an evil turkey that steals the treasure that is filled with the national history of the Galapagos Island and the queen has asked you to go on a dangerous journey to find and retrieve the treasure.
My video game’s storyline is you get captured by the evil snow Queen and you need to escape before she destroys your whole village with her giant snow monster servant! You have to escape her dungeon and get past her royal guards before it’s too late to save your village!
My students no doubt think I am a broken record (if they knew what a record was). Every day, as they are working on their Hero’s Journey Video Game Design Project, I am reminding them: What is your story? How will the player “read” the story by playing your game? Is each level a “chapter”? Where are you putting text into your game?
It’s important that the narrative be part of the game, but they often get wrapped up in the design of the game that they are apt to forget about the story. My daily and constant reminders, and questions as they work, are more about narrative than level design at this point in time.
As always, I am working on my own game as they work, too, as a way to share out my thinking process, my workarounds, my progress and a mentor text for them to play to understand the mix of game and story that this project is all about.
You can play my game, in development process, if you want. I am revising my game as I work, re-publishing new versions as I add new levels/chapters, and talking through my process with my students.