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.

GameKit Beta

When I first visited this site, over a year ago, I didn't know quite what to do with it. Since then, partly due to the ever-expanding palette of projects offered to my eighth graders, partly due to the low / no budget situation of public schools these days, and partly due to the influence of Casey Niestat videos, I've become more enamored with the whole DIY, make your own classroom materials culture. GameKit is the ultimate DIY primer for the game design classroom. "GameKit collects the best in game development and game design exercises from designers and teachers around the world" (GameKit). Now, I am trying to integrate the tools and activities at GameKit into my Gamestar Mechanic lesson flow.

Sample lesson: The 5 Elements...

Gamestar mechanic boils down the complex system of the gaming user experience into five distinct but interlocking elements, including goals, mechanics, rules, space, and components. This model holds up really well in sports, board games, and anything students can design or program using more complex tools.
Jhansi introduces the 5 elements.

Students should complete episodes 1 - 3 of the quest, "Addison Joins the League". The key is having made it to the comics at the start of Episode 3.

In groups of 3 - 4, have students access the GameKit warm up, "Find Play in Things". Make sure they have some materials to work with. I've made up GameKit Game Kits (see below), but any assortment of supplies should work. After they've brainstormed a basic premise, they should respond to the following:

  1. “What do you do in the game?” (mechanics: collecting, shooting, throwing, solving)
  2. “How do you win the game?” (what is your goal?)
  3. “What limitations have you given players to make it more challenging?" (What are the rules of the game?) 
  4. “Describe the game space.” (tabletop, grid, floor, etc.)
  5. “What do you use to play the game?” (components: coins, dice, rubber bands, etc.)
Students should use this information to introduce their game to another group, who will play-test it and provide feedback.

This activity can have numerous connections to other activities and skills. You could assert that the mechanics and or goal must have some connection to a concept[s] you're learning in class. You can have students bust our their own devices (BYOD) to photograph or film the game and share to Edmodo. Students could blog about the process of creation, the five elements, and the iterative process based on play-test feedback. 

Good follow-ups to this activity are:

Good luck, and have fun watching your students become engaged to the max.


Game Space & Adding ARIS to the mix...

ARIS is self-described as a "user-friendly, open-source platform for creating and playing mobile games, tours, and interactive stories". You have to really think outside of the box to use it. Students can use GPS, QR Codes, or even pictures as keys to unlock the hybrid world of virtual interactive characters, items, and media developed in augmented reality using the ARIS iOS app.

I like to use this to play with the idea of game space. I have students activate and complete the Gamekit Play Space Challenge. After completing this challenge and thinking about a game's space from a top-down and platformer perspective, I have students consider how it would fit into a situated physical space. After figuring out what is possible, I ask to student to explain how using ARIS to create their game space would affect / alter the other four elements of their game. Groups who wish to are encouraged to follow through with re-creating their game in ARIS, for bonus points, of course. 


Boxed Sets

My GameKit game kits
I've noted before that I am a bit of a nerd... Okay, I'm more than a bit of a nerd. I'll never forget the Christmas that I unwrapped the Basic D&D Black Box. There's something about a game in a box. Just the act of discovery and the feeling of potential you get when you open up the box is pretty darn magical, for lack of a better word.

With that in mind, I decided to create some GameKit game kits I simply grabbed some boxes (old folder boxes work great) and threw in some office supplies, printed some warm-up directions from GameKit, and added some random game items. You could do what you wish. My boxes include:

  • Challenge Book (GameKit Warm ups 1-3)
  • Paper Clips
  • 3 rubber bands
  • 3 small cups
  • Index cards
  • Post-it notes
  • 1 12” ruler
  • 3 pennies
  • 2 dice
  • 2 random bonus game items
  • 5 laminated game-board mats. (laminated for dry erase markers)

I'm already thinking about other things to add, expansion kits that contain small games to mod, and additional activities to use in our morning "class meetings" that are centered around themes of unity.

Chime in

If any of this inspires you, if you've come up with your own cool activities with this stuff, or if you'd like to share how these activities could be more awesome, please comment below. I love your feedback.

Game on & DFTBA...


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