Slice of Life: Well, That Was Chaotic

(This is for Slice of Life, a weekly writing invitation by Two Writing Teachers to capture moments in our lives. Come write with us.)

Buoyancy Games Collage

Well, that was chaotic.

My goal in class yesterday was pretty straightforward. We are working on nearing the end of our Science-based Video Game Design unit, and peer-review/play-testing is an important element for young game designers to gather an outside perspective. When you build a video game, you know all the ins and outs of it — all the tricks of the game —  and at some point, that is not a good thing. You lose perspective.

What you need is an outside voice. A player to play your game.

So, our activity had students working the room, playing each other’s games in a rather logical sequential order, and writing out “warm” and “cool” feedback on the games. We’ve used this same strategy with writing this year, so it is not new. I even had sentence starters for both feedback points on the interactive board and situated around the room as paper copies.

But clearly, giving feedback on writing (while not easy) is much more focused than giving feedback on student-created video games. I don’t know what I expected but the craziness that ensued was not quite it.

First of all, every game took a different amount of time to complete, so we were never quite in sync with the rotations. Some were still playing while others were done and ready to move on.

Second, the designers of the video games kept their eyes and ears open for players talking about their games, and they would leave the game they were play-testing to talk to the players of their game. That messed up the whole rotation idea. (It also made me think, next time I am going to more of a partner/feedback activity to allow for this to happen in a more controlled fashion.)

Third, I had to keep emphasizing that “cool” feedback did not mean merely writing “this is hard.” Some of the games are indeed hard to beat and play. That’s why we were getting a peer reviewer, to give that perspective. Instead, I said over and over and over (and over and over and over) that good advice would follow that with “and here is my recommendation …” and be specific.

Fourth, the noise noise noise noise. Ok. So my room can get noisy at times, particularly with game design when work and sharing and socializing seem to mingle more than usual, but this was just a bit too noisy even for me. (Good thing my supervisor didn’t wander in). I suspect it is the combination of holidays – vacation – game design – adolescence. I needed ear plugs.

I would not call the peer review/play-testing activity a failure, but I was not sure I quite achieved what I hoped for — the learning objective centered on giving and receiving specific feedback on a project that will provide insights for revision and improvement.

And then .. and then … as they shifted back to our games, I noticed so many of them reading with attention the comments left on their games by peers, and then they were asking follow-up questions, and then some of them (thankfully) began the process of revising levels — adding more lives, fixing the narrative text, revisiting the science concepts, removing obstacles — and suddenly, the chaos was worth it.

Some days are just like that, aren’t they?

Peace (beyond the games),

PS — this chart that I put together one year guides my thinking here ..

Writing and Game Design Compared


  1. Some term from complexity theory about feedback:

    1. If an attractor works you amplify it
    2. If an attractor doesn’t work you dampen it.

    Attractor= a thing, a thing to do, a process, a product, a reflection (you know the drill, teachrman)

    Works= you hypothesized a result and you got it in whole, in part and all the variations in between. You and your participants need to decide what level is deemed successful or not.

    Get students to devise five different ways you could have achieved the same outcome?

    Any way you look at it I would have to say it only gave the strong appearance of chaos. Instead it was a more permeable version of order with you riding herd on the hampsters.

    antispamiamplification: census ho As Kevin’s eyes roved over the classroom he wondered, “Signal? Noise? Signal? Noise? Both And Neither Either.” He thought to himself that his job was as a border collie in the field keeping the sheep from running oft. Hell, nobody said it wasn’t gonna be at least semi-tough.

  2. I loved traveling through this classroom experience with you. Sometimes you have to have a bit of chaos for true learning to occur. Kudos to you for embracing it and allowing your students this rich experience. I’m sure they won’t forget it!

  3. I suppose your idea of one on one might have worked the way you envisioned, yet the description of the ending where thoughtful conversation and then revising began seems good, too. Sometimes the noise overrides what’s really going on, and students don’t seem to mind, do they? I like your terms “warm” and “cool”, haven’t hear that before. Have a wonderful break, Kevin, with visions of video games dancing in your head!

  4. I think this is some of the thinking we went through when we worked on the digital writing book. Love this work!!!!
    Waiting for more joy to come to me 🙂

  5. Nice reflection, Kevin. Already revising the process, so you learned from the chaos and hampster-herding :-).

    You are so right, that it is hard to get students at this age (and even in high school) to give “kind, specific, helpful” (Ron Berger phrase) feedback.

    I like your thought of paired peer feedback – where the peers consult with the author of the game. I think it would still require a structured format, to keep the process continually headed in a positive direction.

  6. Even though it might have appeared chaotic, all the kids knew what they were doing and were engaged. I bet this is a unit and a day, they will always remember.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *