I just spent the week at MIT learning not only how to design an educational game, but also how to teach how to either design a game and/or play a game that integrates into the classroom. About 15-20 educators and students were introduced to the Game Design ToolKit developed by the Learning Games Network, a spin-off of MIT’s Education Arcade. I met Kurt, Matt, Heather and Alex as well as four fantastic elementary school students who were on my design team. The camp was not a technical camp, so we did not actually make a video game using software such as Scratch, GameSalad, GameMaker, Activate, or Gamestar Mechanic. Instead, we spent the week exploring the topics typically taught in school that interested us, discovering the concepts that we wanted to teach back through play, creating a paper prototype of our game, and then sharing our games with the group for feedback during a play test evaluation, which we then incorporated into our final pitch presentation to a panel of judges. Although we had a deadline we did enjoy the 4 Freedoms of playful learning which are 1. the freedom to experiment, 2. the freedom of identity, 3. the freedom to fail and 4. the freedom of effort.
MIT Education Arcade and LGN Creative Director, Scot Osterweil, spoke to us about the 4 freedoms and the value of play in learning. “Play is not about rote memory or survival/skill building. Play is not just amusement, but learning how to engage with the world.” Playful learning is all about having the freedom to make mistakes, to fail, and to learn by trying again and explaining how you solved the problem.
Peter Reynolds, founder of Fablevision and pattern with LGN, also visited us and reminded us “Don’t get stuck on making it look right, get the idea out, and let it be ish.”
Finally, Kate, Karen, and Rene from Fablevision’s FabLab walked through how they approach game design to help us with ours. Stick to the rules when sharing ideas:
1) Find the FUN!
2) NO idea is bad!
3) Write everything down!
4) Brainstorm by talking and sketching
And follow these guiding questions:
1) What is your game story?
2) Structure and levels?
3) Game flow (how is your story told?)
6) Look & Feel
7) Reality (pulling back, testing, and seeing what works and what doesnt)
My team and I chose to tackle science and to make it fun by building a role-playing adventure board game on Mars that poses environmental challenges that one would encounter on Mars if a human could actually go there. Players roll the die to advance around the board and chose scenario cards from the deck. Players could barter for tools and weapons and build up strength through acquiring new knowledge about Mars and its relationship to the solar system. After play testing and presenting…we actually WON best in Elementary class! Check out our game:
During the week I was also introduce to one of LGN’s beta games, Quandary, which presents moral dilemmas to young people in an effort to teach empathy, citizenship, and fairness to youth. I was actually interviewed and I think some of my quotes made it into their promotional video!!