Dr. Pop Blog4 comments
The reason for creating a game is to make sure that the learning is interactive and fun. (As opposed to boring and dull, which, with all due respect to my chosen profession, is what comes to mind for most people when you say the word “zoning.”)
We needed to test our game ideas before we got too deeply into the time-consuming production work that online games require.
So we decided to start with a game that people can play face-to-face in a room. A board game.
After some back-and-forth experimentation we came up with a rough prototype and then play-tested it with a stalwart crew of smart, activist health promoters from Esperanza.
The results of that are best captured in the following conversation:
Rosten: So let me get this straight. You didn’t have any fun at all? Ever?
Enough said. So it was back to the proverbial drawing board. Or in this case — game board.
Unlike Rosten (and my daughter Chelsea, who beats me at any and all games) I am not a gamer. I like games like charades and scrabble because I like drama and words. So I clearly needed to get up to speed.
Schell lays out four basic elements of game design:
- Mechanics: The procedures, rules, and goal of the game. How players can and cannot try to achieve that goal and what happens when they do.
- Story: The sequence of events that unfolds in the game. This can be linear and pre-scripted or branching and emergent.
- Aesthetics: What the game looks and feels like. This is very important to game design because this has the most direct relationship to a players experience.
- Technology: The materials and interactions that make the game possible which may be anything from playing cards and tokens to augmented reality.
(In our case, there is a fifth element — our Learning Goals).
This basic frame helped me figure out where our game really sucked (Schell says that playtesting is like an engraved invitation that reads: You are cordially invited to tell me why I suck. Bring a friend).
We have a good story. Rosten is an aesthetics champ. We are comfortable with technology of various sorts. Our weakest element was the game’s mechanics.
I know as much about game mechanics as auto mechanics (which is not much), so it was time for me to learn. And the best way to do that is to get busy playing some board games.
I am now a proud habitué of Board Game Geek (tagline: Gaming Unplugged Since 2000) which offers a tremendous database and network of all things board game.
I used their “City-Building” filter to find games about precisely that, read the reviews, downloaded a few that were available that way, and purchased some that sounded promising from individuals and businesses (Troll and Toad, for example).
So here’s the plan: Every week, I’ll share what I’m learning as I learn it, and review the games as I play them.
I hope you board game aficionados out there will look up from what you are playing to chime in with your own opinions, experience and recommendations.
Next week’s game: Monopoly City
Here are two other really good books for people who are interested in games and what they have to do with learning:
- Rules of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman This is a great textbook about the theory and practice of making games. Educators might appreciate Zimmerman’s back story (I heard him speak at last year’s DevLearn Conference). He started a successful gaming company called Gamelab, which in addition to spinning off some others, created a non-profit called the Institute of Play , which, in turn started Quest to Learn, a school based on play as a model for learning.
- What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy , by James Paul Gee, an accomplished educator. This book is referred to reverentially by the other authors as an inspiring bible for people who care about games as an effective vehicle for learning.