Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts in the “Games Research” Category

Want to be in a case study on games?

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Posted Dec. 16, 2013

CategoryGames Research

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Hi Gamestar Mechanic NYC Educators!

Our friends at BrainPOP are involved in a cool research study funded by Gates on how teachers are using digital games for formative assessment. Part of the research involves creating some case studies, and they’re looking for local NYC-area teachers to participate.

Here’s the criteria to participate:

  • Teach grades 5-8 in NYC or the immediate area around NYC.
  • Teach in the content areas of social studies/history, ELA, math or science.
  • Able to use a selected game from BrainPOP’s GameUp as part of your regular curriculum in Winter/Spring 2014.
  • Be willing to participate in a PD session related to GameUp in late January, 2014.
  • Allow researchers to visit your classroom to observe use of the game, and participate in a debriefing interview about your experience with the game.

All teachers who participate in the case studies will receive:

  • Premium access to the BrainPOP web site.
  • A $250 expense allowance for your participation in the professional development.

If you are interested, you can read more here:  http://create.nyu.edu/agames and then you should complete this application: http://create.nyu.edu/application

It’s a pretty cool opportunity!

Playtesting from a Designer’s Perspective

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Posted Aug. 25, 2013

CategoryGames Research

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Recently I wrote about my experience focus testing games and what I’ve learned.  I thought it’d be interesting to get another point of view on the testing process from someone who designed the games. So I asked MKG, a designer on Gamestar Mechanic, to tell us a little bit about his experience when testing his designs with kids. Here’s what he had to say:


Hi, everyone! My name is Michael Gi (aka MKG) and I’ll be writing today’s blog post to share what I’ve learned and experienced when going into the classrooms. I’m a game designer at E-Line Media and I’ve worked primarily on Gamestar Mechanic, designing the quest, levels, sprites, challenges, and more. I have also had the opportunity to travel to many classes and see Gamestar Mechanic in action with the kids it was intended for. I’m pleased to say that every time it has been an amazing and gratifying experience.

As a game designer, I’m constantly trying to create new and unique levels, scaffold features and functionality, and find a balance for the players of a younger age group. This isn’t easy when you aren’t a middle school student yourself! By coming into classrooms I get to notice so many things that I never accounted for originally. I remember seeing firsthand how difficult it can be for a young, non-gamer to grasp WASD as movement, or how frustrating a timer can be when the solution itself is so clear.

However beyond just difficulty, it’s amazing to me how kids begin to see aspects of the game differently than how you may have originally intended. One eye-opening moment was when a young 10 year old stated, “I collected the Teleporter Sprite, and that’s my favorite so far!” likening the experience to collecting Pokémon (which was totally unintended). When I get the chance to ask students what they’d like to see changed or added in Gamestar Mechanic, their feedback is invaluable and often beyond what we even noted as a team. Our young generation is full of remarkable thinkers; being able to bring out this sort of critical thinking and creative problem solving to a game system is very powerful and rewarding.

The last thing I’d like to share is how engaged and excited these kids are. It’s extremely gratifying as a game developer to see the game I’ve spent so much time working and collaborating on be enjoyed so much by so many players. I’ve had kids ask for my gamer tag, e-mail address, and even autograph! But in the end nothing trumps the face of joy that lights up a student’s face when they’re busy playing, designing, and sharing.

Focus Testing Games for Learning

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Posted Jul. 30, 2013

CategoryGames Research, Gaming Education

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I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple weeks focus testing a new game. Testing with kids is a touchy subject; we need to be careful that we’re getting accurate feedback from kids, that kids understand what we are asking them, and that parents and schools also understand what and why we’re testing.  I thought I’d share some of my insights from my recent focus tests:

Handshakes – Kids who are participating in a playtest are doing a HUGE service for the company and game.  They are giving opinions and information that us grownups can only speculate on, no matter how well we remember elementary school. They should be treated like they are a super integral part of the development process, because they are! I’ve started giving kids formal handshakes before they start the testing, and another handshake to thank them when they are done.  This kind of “thank you for your time” gesture might seem a little odd to do with a 9 year old, but I’m finding that it helps the kids understand how important they are to the design process, and then they really step up to give great feedback.

Introductions – I’ve started asking kids who they are, what they like to do in and out of school, and how they describe their own personality before we start the testing.  Not only is this helping make kids feel comfortable during the session, but it also lets me think about who they are as gamers before they start playing. A kid who loves shooters might give different feedback than a kid who loves playing Angry Birds on a cellphone.  Once the kids talk about who they are, sometimes they start giving feedback through that lens too, saying things like, “Well, since I love sports, I like scoring points in the game.”

Repeating – When I taught ESL in schools, I tried my best not to repeat what my students said, letting the kids speak for themselves.  When filming a focus testing session, however, I find that repeating their feedback really helps.  Kids can get really into playing a game and they might start speaking to the game and not to the tester.  If I repeat what they said for confirmation, I have the benefit of hearing the kid’s ideas clearly when I review the footage.  Ideally, you’d have multiple people testing with excellent cameras and mics.  But, realistically, it might just be you and your camera phone.

Groups – I’ve mostly been conducting focus interviews one on one.  Having a kid answer questions individually is good because there is no confirmation bias; they say what they are thinking without being influenced by their peers. However, I’ve also tested in pairs to see how kids play a single-player game together (which happens all the time in the real world!), and in a large group to see how a bunch of kids in a classroom environment would react to the game.  I’ve gotten useful and different information from testing in each of these settings.

Another note, if you’re ever testing games for learning, check out the book Game Usability first. It’s full of tips and proven methods!

Gamestar Case Study

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Posted Apr. 12, 2013

CategoryGames Research

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I’d like to take a minute to share with you this case study on Gamestar Mechanic written by Peter Hall on Design Minds.  Peter has been tracking the use of Gamestar in classrooms around Brisbane, Australia.

The case study does a great job of explaining what Gamestar is and how it can further systems thinking for students.  There are two parts of this case study which are particularly poignant:

While Gamestar gives students many means to reflect and think critically about their work, getting students to partake in meaningful reflection is challenging “amid the seductive glow of the computer screen, truncated lesson times and distracted students.”  Hall goes on to describe a shift in environment that can be a solution to this challenge: using physical games away from the smart classroom.  Like Hall, I’ve observed successful courses in which students explore games through sports, board games, and word games as a counterpart to their digital game design work.  Hall compares two groups of students, one who used Gamestar only, and one who mixed Gamestar with physical game activities, finding that the mixed physical and digital class had better opportunity for decision-making and discussion.

Another key point in this case study is about students excelling while using Gamestar when they otherwise are not engaged in school.

“Several teachers provide evidence of otherwise disenfranchised students suddenly becoming quite obsessive and productive when confronted with Gamestar Mechanic, empowered with their knowledge and skill to assist fellow classmates in conquering levels, collecting sprites or building games.”

I’ve also observed students who have trouble focusing, writing, or collaborating become engaged while working on game design activities, a testament that when kids are naturally passionate about a subject, they are more inclined to engage with it in an academic setting.

Thank you, Design Minds, for publishing such an interesting study on Gamestar Mechanic!

 

Gamestar Dissertations

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Posted Dec. 20, 2011

CategoryGames Research

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These days, more and more research is being conducted on games and game design for learning.  In fact, two PHD dissertations have been written on Gamestar Mechanic.  You can find them on our site here.

Robert Torres

The first is written by Robert Torres at NYU in 2009.  Torres studied how participating in a “learning ecology generated and mediated by Gamestar Mechanic” improves the player’s ability to foster systems-thinking.  Torres breaks systems thinking down into subskills, talks about why systems thinking is important, and connects it explicitly to game design.  It’s pretty cool stuff.

Alex Games

The next dissertation is written by Alex Games (his real last name, but pronounced gam-ez) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2009.  Games writes about how Gamestar Mechanic helps children learn language and literacy skills important for the 21st century.  He also researches how children communicate using the “language of game” to help designers create more effective game-based learning environments.   The connection between literacy and game design is a fascinating one.  Be sure to check out the paper!

I’m especially interested in academic studies on games and learning.  As a classroom teacher myself, it’s always a good feeling to know that a tool that I’m using is backed by research.