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DISCUSSION POST: Game-based learning and game design

Games based learning report There’s a growing body of work to support current theories about the power and potential of games, to aid learning and performance - from the classroom to the boardroom. It is interesting to see how close learning theories (ie socialist, humanist, developmental, behavioural) and human psychology in gaming aligns; especially in regards to intrinsic motivation (Gamification 101: The Psychology of Motivation).

Psychology of motivation and the more commonly used gaming mechanics/elements (tasks, goals, challenges, strategy, levels, competition, social, community, rewards, points, leader board etc) can be used to influence engagement motivation, learning (gamification) as well as game design. For more on Gamification  (Enabling e-Learning TKI) for more information

Game design in action

In some classrooms, game based learning has also been used as a context to develop digital capabilities in contexts like STEAM/STEM. As NZCER research shows, At the heart of game design lies an iterative design process. No game can be devised and created by mapping out a plan from start to finish. All game designs start with an idea, or several ideas, that must be prototyped, tested, changed, retested, tweaked, and refined through many cycles of play testing.  (Games, gamification, and game design for learning Innovative practice and possibilities in New Zealand schools (Rachel Bolstad and Sue McDowall, P22).

One particular example from this report shares what game design can look like in a secondary context.

Students undertook research into digital games, including playing 1980s Commodore 64 games, through to looking at emerging fields such as virtual reality and using Google Cardboard. They worked through a storyboarding process, and designed game objects that they then created through 3D modelling and 3D printing. They built games in Gamefroot, a digital 2D game-building platform, and wrote about computer science concepts they were learning. The final step was to use graphic design tools to mock up a product and packaging “as if they were to put it their game up on the App store, what that would look like, with description, screenshots, etc.” (p16).

In the Enabling e-Learning video below, Game design process students worked through a process of inquiry (in a cross-curricula approach), developing their ideas in authentic contexts using a design thinking process. The students researched game mechanics and ideated different ideas, created prototypes of their games, tested their games with end-users and made modifications ready for potential manufacture.

On another Enabling e-Learning snapshot, Totally realistic sledding we see how Virtual Reality (VR) can be a powerful tool in supporting and facilitating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in secondary education.

In another example from Technology Online, Digital technologies curriculum content and designing games we see a variety of digital platforms introduced (Minecraft, Unity, W3 schools, Lego Mindstorm EV3, Micro:bits) to help advance some game development skills in the context of Technology, in particular Computational Thinking and Digital Technologies and Designing and Developing Digital Outcomes.

Where to start

With game development, the possibilities are endless. You’re the master of your domain, you can teach others, lead a hikoi, build a village, slay a dragon, fight for survival or change the world – both unplugged (board games, card games, physical games) and digital (Scratch, Gamefroot etc). It’s also a fast growing area of the tech industry.

You can try an idea where your students become game developers. Individuals and/or teams can think of a simple game - it doesn’t have to be digital. They can brainstorm using the following ideas or use a template (Gamification cards) to present their ideas in a Dragon’s Den type scenario.

  • Name of the game   
  • What is your idea? What type of game is it?
  • What’s awesome about the game? Why?
  • What does it do? What’s the core challenge?
  • What will motivate the players?
  • Where do/ how would people normally play the game?
  • What’s the payoff for players?

You can also explore this game making lesson sequence, What makes a good game? Think like an inventor where students investigate how games are designed, created and played, analyse the audience of games - understanding the importance of empathy in the design process. The learning sequence culminates in a showcase: students sharing the games they have designed with the school community. This sequence of lessons could be completed over several lessons or developed over a term-long inquiry unit.

Design thinking

At the heart of the game development process is design thinking. Find out more about this in Enabling e-Learning, Design thinking and Game development in the classroom.

Thinking about incorporating some form of game design in your practice? We'd love to hear more.

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