Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gamestar + Gamekit Beta = Awesome

21st Century Skills... why game design?

I've been using game design for the last couple of years to increase the application of "21st Century Skills" in my class. The actual curriculum of my course is focused on the ISTE NETS, my official standards, and the Pennsylvania Computer Information Technology Standards for grades 6-8. My goal in teaching and assessing those skills, though, is to provide a context including as much STE[A]M focused content as possible and as many opportunities as I can for students to practice the 21st Century Skills.

Game Design is concerned with studying the concepts behind the basic elements of a game, and how the balance of fun and challenge in games creates flow. It is also concerned with the iteration feedback loop and how games are a complex system designed around creating a satisfying user experience. Game design is a great jumping off point for introducing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) learning through the lens of systems-thinking and user-centered design. Working with these complex concepts requires creativity and critical thinking in generous amounts. Basically, students have to figure out how a user is going to interact with a system that hasn't been invented yet. Further, the iterative feedback loop requires collaboration. Students are not going to learn to work well with others by being forced to do class assignments that they could do just fine on their own in a group of random peers. They either just divide up the work like a pie, ending up with an end product that looks like five different people made it, or one member does all of the work while everyone else sits there and argues or gossips. When you make a game, you need other people. Even if you make the whole thing yourself, someone is going to have to play-test it and give you feedback.

Gamestar Mechanic

Gamestar Mechanic is awesome. I can't say enough good things about it. "Gamestar Mechanic is a game and community designed to teach kids the principles of game design and systems thinking in a highly engaging environment" (GSM). You don't have to be a game design expert to do this (I certainly wasn't and still am not), but you must provide some context. Gamestar Mechanic is not a babysitter, and most of your students will not accidentally pick up the concepts. I've used Gamestar Mechanic with the excellent scaffolding provided by E-Line Media in the Gamestar Mechanic Learning Guide, as well as plenty of my own.

Gamestar Mechanic is one of the projects of The Institute of Play, an organization that is involved in a lot of other epic projects. One of those is GameKit Beta.