We’re nearing the end of our video game design project and as I play the games created by my students (exploring the Hero’s Journey narrative arc), more than a few have surfaced as fine exemplars for next year (or just for sharing out).
I invite you (or your students, if you want) to play these video game projects, created through Gamestar Mechanic. (You don’t need an account to play the games linked here but you do need to be on a computer and enable flash.)
One of the writing tasks for students with our video game design unit (still underway) is to write a persuasive video game review, using a design lens (controls, audio, visual, playability, etc) as the lens in which to examine a game. It’s also a helpful zeitgeist moment for me, the adult in the room, on the trends of video games that young people are playing.
The word cloud above is a gathering of the titles of games my young writers chose to review. Fortnite, for sure, has the highest number of reviewers, over all, and it is a mix of girls and boys. Minecraft, for years the most-reviewed game, has slipped in popularity while Roblox has gained traction, mostly with girls, it seems. Gamestar Mechanic, which we use to make and publish games, was the default choice for those who don’t regularly play video games but still needed to write a review.
I notice more kids writing about playing games on consoles (Xbox, etc.) than on mobile apps, which is another interesting shift I noticed this year. I’m not sure it is a trend or an indication of the increasing popularity of multi-player games, like Fortnite. Many students write about the lag time on big games like that, and how the lag makes for frustrating gaming.
There always some video games that get reviewed that I don’t know about — Tank Stars, Fishing Break and Avakin Life, for example — so at least having these titles on my radar screen is helpful as I weave in game design with writing this time of year. I’ll be sharing out some of the reviews another day.
The persuasive nature of video game reviews provides an opportunity for them to express their opinion about something, sometimes rather strongly (bad reviews of terrible games were as acceptable as good reviews), and to examine the genre of video game reviews. Many of students watch reviews on YouTube, which makes me wonder if I need to begin to adapt this assignment for video as well as text.
I love adding in all sorts of writing into our video game design unit — sort of a sneaky way to get them to think about writing in context of a media project. They are in the midst of building video games in Gamestar Mechanic on the theme of the Hero’s Journey. We are approaching our publishing date, but things always take longer than expected in this unit.
Last week, I had them write me a mid-way reflective letter on how things are going. I love how the writing gives me insights into their progress and provides some nice entry into conversations during our conferencing.
We’re in the midst of our Hero’s Journey video game design unit, in which my sixth graders are developing and then publishing a video game based on the concept of the Hero’s Journey. We use Gamestar Mechanic, which teaches students how to build games by playing games, and provides tools for publishing.
The first phase is all about story-framing (what is the story that will be the backbone of the game) and storyboarding (what will your game look like) and this work provides some rich moments of questions and conversations and thinking through the game before it is under construction.
I love the variety of games under consideration. I have traditional “make your way home” and “rescue mission” stories, as well as ones that are inspired by novels they are reading, and even this year, one in which the character is inside a “book” as the setting of the game. I’m looking forward to watching that one get developed.
The story-framing is a way for young game designers to articulate the spine of the narrative, and they often require reminders during the building of games to refer back to the story-frame.
I tell them this as a sort of daily mantra:
The player is the reader, playing your story as a game
Meanwhile, the storyboarding gives rise to questions of design, of where things might be and how things might look, and often prompts questions about what they can and cannot do in Gamestar Mechanic as designers. I do a lot of huddling around work-arounds and alternative ideas once they are deep into design. But this early work gives me a glimpse of what they are thinking, and provides them with a map from which to begin work.
Peace (designed, played, won),
PS — if you want to learn more about how we move game design into the ELA classroom (and some years, with connection to science), check out the resource site we created the first year. We tried to include materials that you are free to use: Video Game Design
These dances are known as “emotes” (that link will give you full details about each move, and its visual messaging to other players, and it is fascinating to explore). If you didn’t know about emotes, they are used in the game to express a player’s emotion, usually in victory over someone else. Also, players can pay money for more emotes beyond the handful of free ones. So, you know, no surprise, but there’s a profit margin here.
Anyway, last night, my wife and I were at a Bar Mitvah celebration for the sons of some close friends, and the DJ had all the kids on the dance floor for extended periods of time, and the large crowd of kids (again, mostly boys but some girls) were doing a variety of intricate dance moves learned in Fortnite.
It seemed like every kid knew every dance move.
They were even teaching the DJ some new ones, which shows how quickly things change. Later, as we adults all took the floor to dance, too, the DJ added a few Fortnite references to the shout-outs for us, although he was careful to mix them in slowly and not choose the more bizarre ones (we did not all Floss at the same time, although that would have been rather amusing).
It’s a testament to the current power of the video game to influence pop culture and an intriguing way to use dance as cultural currency outside of the game itself. Perhaps I only see a narrow view of the world (my classroom and other related spaces with my teenage son), but I’ve never seen more boys interested in dance moves than now, with the Fortnite influence in full effect.
There are other more concerning considerations, too, such as the message it sends of dancing in victory over another defeated player, as an indication of professional sports impacting game design; the influence of any video game on emerging youth culture (nothing new); and the public complaints of artists about Fortnite not crediting and paying for their original dance moves used in the game itself. (Is there a Creative Commons for dance moves?)
Emotes are another under-the-radar element of youth culture worth noticing, at least. Something new is coming. It always is.
I was doing some searching for something else entirely when I came across this piece by Mimi Ito about the connections between gaming and writing. Ito shares a case study profile of a girl whose interests in Minecraft expanded her sense of self as a writer.
I appreciate this section, where Ito talks about how the student followed her interest in gaming by writing scripts that take place in Minecraft, and how the teacher was open enough to understand that the students was following a passion.
Tal got the idea to write scripts for her and her friends to film as animated plays in the game from a post on a Minecraft online forum. She got support for doing so from her social studies teacher, who had noticed Tal’s interest in creative writing. While the teacher wasn’t a Minecraft player herself, she did recognize that the game created a socially rich and creatively driven context for nurturing Tal’s writing interests. — from Writing to Gaming to Writing by Mimi Ito
We had just finished the last round of our state testing (we, meaning them) and we had some time in the classroom as we waited for the other three sixth grade classes to also finish (and then we would get outside for fresh air).
They ate snacks, and started games of Uno and Scrabble, and then I watched the boys (this was only the boys, and every boy in the classroom) gather together and start to act like their arms were pickaxes and they were cutting down trees (some acted like trees that others were cutting down.) When we finally got outside, the boys ran to bushes and trees, and began acting like they were chopping wood again.
Ok. What? Minecraft? Maybe?
I soon realized that the boys were “playing” Fortnite, the multi-player video game phenomenon that I know has been part of many of the students’ gaming lives for weeks now. But to see it being acted out — the axes being used to clear bushes and trees to make hiding spaces in the game world — just looked … odd. (The girls kept glancing over at the boys, with a look like … they are such strange creatures.)
At one point, one of my students came over to me, and with a smile and a laugh, asked: Mr. H, do you Floss?
I knew better than to respond right away, and I quickly realized that The Floss is a dance that players do inside Fortnite (and also outside of the game, as I recognized the movement immediately). Along with (thanks to later research) the Floss, there is also the Fresh, the Squat Kick and the Wiggle.
So, what to make of Fortnite? It’s a survival game, in which collaboration is key. It’s social. It’s global. Millions of people are playing it. I hear my students planning Fortnite sessions for the evening. Fortnite is everywhere right now. Is it just a fad? Maybe, but even fads have reverberations in culture, and the language and dancing and other elements of Fortnite are creeping into pop culture, for sure.
Just ask your kids.
A day later, I was reading a piece in The New Yorker about Fortnite by writer Nick Paumgarten (the article was inspired by him watching his adolescent son and son’s friends play the game). He immediately noticed the social aspects (including friends gathering to watch other friends play) as well as some of the positive pieces of the game. He also noticed how the design of the game draws players in for extended periods of time.
While a magazine headline writer used this warning in the magazine as the subhead on the featured image — The craze has elements of Beatlemania, the opioid crisis, and eating Tide Pods — Paumgarten ultimately notes that Fortnite is ” … a kind of mass social gathering, open to a much wider array of people than the games that came before it. Its relative lack of wickedness — its seems to be mostly free of the misogyny and racism that afflict many other games and gaming communities — makes it more palatable to a broader audience …”
My son, age 13, tried to download Fortnite to my iPad, but it didn’t work because of the age of the iPad (sorry, Kid). So he went into another game that is sort of a clone of Fortnite that he plays with friends. They keep an open communication channel and my wife and I can hear him chatting and planning and laughing and shouting, and socializing, with friends as they play together. This element of player connection, mostly positive for now, makes the game environment different, I think, and I wonder where that element will take the next tier of video games.
A few years ago, for DS106, I was part of a group that did a collaborative radio project that centered on the art of remixing. My segment centered around an activity I do with my sixth grade students, remixing and hacking the game of chess to create something new altogether. It is part of our Game Design Unit.
Here is the radio segment I did:
Peace (hacked for greater good),
PS — here is the entire Merry Hacksters Radio Show
This week, in Networked Narratives, the theme is on games and one of the challenges is to use audio to tell a story, and the audio should be game-themed. I decided to try to make a short song loop, with game sounds. No story except, there’s always a “game over” moment in a game.
By the way, if you want to join me in annotating the video hangout session that the NetNarr folks and guests did on the topic of gaming and learning, come into the Vialogues with me. I’m slow-watching it and adding comments off to the side.
(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 am always impressed when my students find new ways to “hack” or game a system. Last week, one of my students created a new video game in Gamestar Mechanic that everyone in the grade began playing. Not because it is a good game or a fun game or a challenging game. In fact, quite the opposite.
The game is called Spam Enter, and as soon as you hit play, you win the game. Hit replay. You win again. Again and again. No, the “game” my students were playing, which began with one or two kids and soon became a viral challenge across classes, was to help the game achieve more than 10,000 plays.
This morning, when I looked, it had more than 13,o00 plays.
One on hand, it’s nonsense. This means a bunch of kids were just hitting replay on the computer. They were. And it was rather funny, as kids had their fingers on the return button of their computer keyboards while holding conversations with each other about the coming vacation and the Olympics and such.
On the other hand, they saw the activity as a way to game the Gamestar System, to see what would happen if a single game suddenly got thousands of plays. One student starting telling others to rate the game high. Their informal plan was to move the game into the Gamestar Mechanic featured game section of what is known as Game Alley.
Did it work? I don’t know. But they keep hitting play.