Giving game design a go in your classroom

9 November 2015

Start from what students know says Rachel Bolstad, a senior researcher at NZCER and one of the Game Design Competition 2016 judges.

Teachers can start from what they and their students know about games and take it from there.

“You don’t have to start with advanced skills,” says Rachel Bolstad, an education researcher and judge in the Game Design Competition.

Rachel Bolstad“Everybody is familiar with games of some kind. You could start by picking apart a familiar game and thinking about what makes that tick, what hooks people. Then your students can think about how to apply some of those concepts to the problems we’re trying to address around safe road use.”

Tapping prior knowledge

By doing this, teachers tap into student ‘game literacy’. The class may bring considerable depth, expertise, and knowledge acquired through their own experiences which teachers can surface and direct towards a purposeful outcome.

Rachel says student groups don’t need to map out an entire game design project in advance. They may have the rough outline of a game and then go through cycles of improvement.

“Start to test and play with your creation as soon as you can. Test your design with other people and then refine your ideas. Prototyping and testing helps you to figure out what does work and how to improve on the core game mechanic you've developed. You may cycle through several ideas that don't quite work as you expect, but this just part of the process of getting from a good idea to a great game.”

Think of the end user

Students will need to think about the people who would play their game, and how their design would engage and motivate these people, says Rachel.

“You should think about your audience when you’re creating any kind of text and that is especially true with the interactive nature of games. The story in the game will only reveal itself to players once they are actually playing the game.
“As a designer you should ask yourself, what is the story you are trying to tell through your game?  How will players experience that through the interactions they have in the game?”

Students and teachers entering a playable game can test their prototypes with actual players while teams submitting the game design document should also seek feedback and find out how their ideas stack up from someone else’s point of view.

"Game designers frequently have to pitch their ideas to someone else, such as a funder, at an early stage. So learning how to pitch confidently and seek constructive feedback is an important skill for a budding game designer. You can practice pitching your ideas to anyone in your life – friends, peers, teachers, family members. If they don't ‘get’ your idea, think about what you could change or refine, and try again!"

Key competencies in context

Collaborating on an authentic task like game design enables students to develop key competencies within a knowledge context, says Rachel.

“It's an opportunity to get deep into thinking about what "participating and contributing" and "relating to others" means in the context of road safety. What’s our part to play in contributing to a safe road system? What are the cognitive and behavioural factors that contribute to how people use our roads? How can a game influence the way people think about these things? These are the kinds of big questions students can explore as part of their game design process.”

This article also appears in the Education Portal Newsletter 28 (PDF, 385 KB)

Rachel Bolstad’s research on games for learning: Teachers on Google+ can join search for: Games + The Future of Learning (NZCER)