As this summer concludes, so does Gamestar Mechanic’s first ever Online Learning course. We learned A LOT this summer about what it takes to run a course online and were so impressed by the creativity and dedication of our students.
Coming from the perspective of a classroom teacher, it took me a little while to switch gears into the Online Learning mentality. There is some reading between the lines (or the game levels) in figuring out where your students are in their learning pathway that wouldn’t otherwise occur in a face-to-face setting. We asked our students to design a whole bunch of games in a variety of genres (platformer, action, and adventure) and helped them go through the game design process of brainstorming, prototyping, designing, and iterating. We supported our students as much as possible, but it was really up to them to take initiative to move through the course.
I was super impressed by many of the games that came out of this course, not only because the games were great, but because the students who made them were so disciplined and determined to better their game design skills. These are three superb games that came from three outstanding students:
This fall we have released another iteration of Gamestar Mechanic Online Learning. We used what we learned over the summer to make our new version of the program even more focused on scaffolding students in the game design process and giving them more opportunities for reflection.
For a more in depth look at this Online Learning program from one of our instructors, check out this blog post by Meagan Bromley.
I’m constantly impressed by how creative Gamestar Mechanic designers can be. This week the Gamestar staff ran across two superb games in Game Alley. Both of these designers took on the challenge of making a turn-based game using the Gamestar platform. Now, Gamestar can be used to create games in a wide variety of genres including action, adventure, and platformer games, but all these genres are played in real-time. This means, if you take on an enemy, you and the enemy are battling at the same time. Many popular games (think Pokemon) use turn based mechanics where you can do battle turn by turn.
These two designers took the real-time constraint in Gamestar and turned it on it’s head. In these games you can battle bosses in a turned-based way, every turn choosing what kind of action or item you want to take. These games use keys and locks to represent the enemies hit points (health) in a surprising and innovative manner. Truly one of the best parts of working on Gamestar is seeing the brilliant ideas that come out of young designers. Enjoy!
One of the most rewarding parts of working on games and educational tools is when people make thoughtful observations about their experiences using the tool. Much of what I learn about Gamestar comes from the Gamestar community opening my eyes to various experiences and takeaways – often ones that I didn’t expect!
Here are two recent blog posts about Gamestar Mechanic. The first is from Meagan Bromley, an instructor on Gamestar’s Online Learning Program. In this post, Meagan reflects on her experience as an online instructor and emphasizes how very awesome her students are. She describes the diversity of her students’ goals and backgrounds, from experienced game designers to novice experimenters. One of her students is even writing his own blog on his experience in the program! It’s great to hear about how this platform can support this wide array of interests and aspirations.
This next blog post from Michelle Cook, a teacher librarian, describes a series of “epiphanies” that she had while teaching with Gamestar and the realizations that her students made while learning with Gamestar. My personal favorite teacher epiphany is all about validating your students’ interests. Cook writes:
“It is our role as educators of the 21st Century to meet these students where they are at, employ skills and techniques that they are familiar with to gain their trust and attention that you’re on their side and have their best interests at heart.”
This point is so important when using games in the classroom. Yes, games and game design can do many wonderful things like teach systems thinking and collaboration, but they are even more powerful teaching tools because they come from our kids’ natural passion. Whether or not we use games as educational resources, kids will play them in their spare time. Cook, and many other teachers, have realized that by connecting learning to what kids really like to do outside of school, we are providing students with interest-driven pathways and letting them know that we really do value and care about their passions.
Here’s another story about kids making games for other kids, but this time with a very specific goal – battling bullies. Students from Fresno and Clovis Unified high schools recently launched Bully Blaster in the iTunes app store. This article describes the gameplay:
“Using their fingertips, players battle bullying by fighting their way through waves of positive and negative words. By destroying the insults and collecting the compliments, gamers compete for their highest score.”
There is also a great video above the article that explains more about the game, the design process, and has quotes from the designers themselves.
For me, what really made this project stand out was the quote from high school student, Michelle Rodriquez, who said that the game allows the player to choose words that they have been called, and defeat them in the game. This mechanic of allowing players to choose their own bully terminology makes the game very personal. It also means that you are blasting the word, the idea and the insult, instead of the person who says the word. It will be interesting to see how this kind of gameplay affects kids, both the bullies and the bullied.
Here’s a short video showing some Bully Blaster gameplay:
If you are interested in kids making games about healthy relationships and social systems within schools, check out this post about our new project Real Robots of Robot High. This link gives you the background of the project and a chance to sign up for the beta!
As those who have been following Gamestar and this blog for a while may know, one of the most compelling uses of Gamestar that we see (and one that was the subject of early academic research into Gamestar) is using game design to allow students to understand and model systems in other areas.
For the past few months, the team behind Gamestar has been working with the folks from the Start Strong Rhode Island initiative at Sojourner House on a game that applies this concept to an interesting (and perhaps unexpected) area: healthy relationships. Just like games (or biological systems, or mechanical systems, or technological systems or… well, you get the idea), a social environment is a system, and our theory is that by playing, making and sharing games based on social system dynamics, kids will gain a better understanding of how the social systems they inhabit work and be in a better position to deal with issue like gender-based violence, bullying and online safety.
This new game, The Real Robots of Robot High, includes a brand new original world and storyline (featuring the cast of the the titular reality tv series — the longest running and most successful in Robotville). While the game builds on the technology and concepts behind Gamestar, it allows for very different kinds of gameplay and game making. Instead of platforming and blasting, think, for example, about games where characters compete to spread (or prevent the spread) of rumors or challenge each other to see who can become the most influential.
This summer, we’re looking for a core group of teachers who might be interested in helping us beta test the Real Robots in preparation for its official release in the fall. Interested teachers can learn more and sign up for the beta by following this link.
What’s better than kids making video games? Kids making opportunities for other kids to make video games!
You may have read earlier that this year we’ve partnered with Global Kids’ Online Leadership Program. The students at OLP are creating two challenges in Gamestar Mechanic as part of our series of Impact Challenges sponsored by the AMD Foundation. Well, the first challenge, about ending war, has been up and running since March, and closed with more than 700 entries! Recently, Global Kids spoke about their challenges at the 2012 Annual Youth Conference. Below is a video of some OLP kids explaining their projects:
We are so proud to be part of this project. Youth creating contests for other youth in the game design for impact space is the kind of activity that will spur youth participation, leadership, and creativity. Not to mention, bring us a step closer to making the world a better place.
We’ll continue to work with Global Kids on releasing their second challenge in Gamestar, and judging both of the contests.
Here is a very quick and sweet story of a boy who loves games and wanted to share them with his blind grandmother. Because there are not many accessible games for blind people, this boy decided to make his own for her. Quarky’s Quest is an example of being driven to design a game because of your audience. Often young game designers think about the cool features they want to put in their game, or the crazy story it will tell, before they think about who their game is made for. A great design exercise is to choose the audience before creating the game. What kinds of games would kids make to be played by babies? By the elderly? By people who cannot see? By non-gamers? By teachers?
Quarky's Quest Screenshot
If games that don’t use visual cues, like Quarky’s Quest, interest you, check out:
I’ve just returned from a 2 week trip to Chile where I taught, along with game producer Eddie Yoo, about the importance of protecting intellectual property through workshops using Gamestar Mechanic. We taught six workshops total in 3 cities in Chile to about 150 middle schoolers. Below is a fun video (in Spanish) that gives some clips of the workshops.
In teaching with games, we often use the creation of games to teach about other subjects like earth science, math systems, or storytelling. In contrast, these workshops in Chile focused on the artifact that the kids produced – the game itself, not the creation of it – as a component in understanding the subject matter. Our students created Gamestar games, and then bought and sold their same games as products in a commercial economy role playing simulation. They practiced buying and selling games in an economy without intellectual property pirates, and in an economy with them. Because the students were buying and selling games that they themselves created, we hoped for them to feel a sense of ownership and pride over their products.
Intellectual property is an abstract and important subject, especially in our digital world where material can be easily downloaded illegally. Often kids don’t understand the similarities between physical and digital property, and how pirating digital goods is akin to stealing physical ones. Using video games as the example of intellectual property was particularly relevant because the kids in our workshops were super gamers! I believe the strongest lesson that these students took from the workshops was that responsibly making games is a real career choice, and it’s one that will help the economy grow.
If you’re interested in teaching about copyright and intellectual property, Common Sense Media has some great lesson plans. Here’s a favorite of mine that teaches about copyright through music.
Since the beginning of the new year, E-Liners have been doing a lot of traveling. We’ve taught numerous workshops to promote the National STEM Video Game Challenge and workshops to teach teachers about game design. We’ve gotten a bunch ofpositive responses on these workshops and especially on two, offline game design activities that we often present. In the office, we affectionately call this activities “rock paper scissors” and “baggy.”
Both of these activities are about exploring the elements of game design without digital technology. In “rock paper scissors,” you change the elements of the game system to see how changing one element with affect the whole system. In “baggy” (known more professionally as the Game Kit Exercise), you make a game in small groups out of simply office supplies that comes in, you guessed it, a baggy.
Both of these activities are short and sweet, but not without some deep learning. These are the kinds of exercises that *real* game designers do to explore concepts in their creations. Prototyping with physical materials is a great way to start playtesting a new game design.
And now, you can have the “rock paper scissors” and “baggy” exercises for your very own classroom! Follow the link here to the Learning Guide and check out the new lesson plans under “Lessons on Game Design.” These are great preparation lessons for starting out a game design unit (and also great to do if you don’t have access to computers or Internet for a class). Enjoy!
Attention Texans and festival goers: SXSW is just a few short weeks away. The Gamestar team will be out in force at a couple of events around youth game design.
To start things off on Monday, March 5th, Katya and I will be hosting an introductory game design workshop for teachers featuring Gamestar Mechanic. The workshop is part of AMD’s Game On pre-conference event hosted by SXSWedu. The day will include a bunch of exciting events, including several other workshops featuring other great youth game making tools and programs. For more information and to register, check out this link.
After SXSWedu, I’ll be sticking around for SXSWInteractive to host E-Line Media’s interactive youth game making booth at Screenburn. The Screenburn Arcade features great content from the commercial games industry, but this year we’re letting kids create games at the festival, too. Our booth will feature walk-up workshops in game design for kids as well as showcases and live demos by Austin-area youth game designers. Screenburn is open from March 9-11 at the Palmer Events Center in Austin and, best of all, admission is free. For more information, check out our event page or this article from the Austinist.