Epic Tale or Epic Fail: Designing User-centric narrative experiences in Gamestar Mechanic

As mentioned in earlier posts, I've been using Gamestar Mechanic to facilitate technology fluency and systems based thinking in my Computer Information Technology class.
The following activity, developed with the help of several of my students, is appropriate for lessons
in game design, plot development, user-centric design, and creative writing, among other things.

As mentioned in earlier posts, designing a balanced game, one with flow, involves system-based thinking, problem solving, collaboration, art, storytelling, and digital media literacy. It involves "Systems-Thinking" and "User-Centered Design". To develop even a simple game, a student must act as sociotechnical engineer, thinking about how people will interact with a system and how said systems shape both competitive and collaborative social interaction. This is the 21st Century Story Tellers Art. This is where Liberal Arts meets STEM. This is why those of us in our 30's remember and even revisit a great old game, much as though it were a great piece of literature we had read in childhood. I'm not trying to blaspheme here. Please do not attack me for putting Cloud and Frodo in the same basket.

The Lesson

This lesson assumes that students have:
  1. Completed the quest, "Addison Joins the League"
  2. Completed some challenges from the workshop (Message Block, Level Map, & Background Challenges are highly recommended).
  3. Completed the Challenge Card Activity or similar activity in making a game from scratch and getting feedback. 


Today, we are going to pull out the best of what we have in our workshop toolbox (sprites, backgrounds, soundtracks, etc) and the best story we can come up with to make an Epic Tale of Epic Awesomeness...
  • At minimum, you will need:
    • A unifying story (you can unfold this tale in your game and level intro and win messages... yes, I mean write it out).
    • 4 levels
      • Each level increases in challenge and complexity.
      • Each level builds on the unifying theme of the story.
      • Each level has finishing touches, like background & soundtrack.
  • You may also want to include (hint hint... to increase epic awesomeness):
    • A boss or two (Just beef up a sprite with the wrench tool)
    • Text message blocks to help unfold the story (get these from the message box challenge)
    • One or more levels that have an epic scope (aka: Multiple Screen Scrolling)
    • Create a level with more than one route / strategy to win.
  • Avoiding an Epic Fail:
    • Maintain balance - Do not make your game nearly impossible to win. Alternately, do not make it so easy that it’s a joke. (Remember: easy to learn & difficult to master).
    • Tell the story with the 5 Elements - Don’t lose your players by telling a story in cut screens (Level Intro & Win Messages) that has nothing to do with the game they’re actually playing. Try to fit your space, components, mechanics, goals, & rules to your story or your story to your space, components, mechanics, goals, & rules.
    • Use Edmodo to share your game and ask for feedback from classmates.


    Ultimately, any additional context you provide for this activity would depend largely on your objectives. GBL (Game Based Learning) is all about selecting the correct activity to meet your objectives, otherwise it's just GIL* (Games Instead of Learning).

    If I were focusing on Designing User-centric narrative experiences, either for a creative writing activity or a user centered design lesson, I would want to focus heavily on
    • The Elements of Plot
    • Character Development
    • The Iteration Feedback Loop
    • Challenge, Opposition, & Emotion in Games.  

    *Just making my own clever acronym... not another Final Fantasy reference...


    1. I just read this article (http://onforb.es/XYBpai), "How Game-Based Learning Can Save the Humanities". It completely applies here... I feel a follow-up coming on.


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