I teach a range of topics and grade levels, usually under the header of game design, in on ground and online contexts. The common goals for all subjects include:
- Enabling a student’s willingness to work and their ability to self-start.
- Encouraging stepping up to challenges, even if they are outside a student’s skill set.
- Expanding their design thinking and ability to be creative problem solvers.
- Creating design frameworks to situate their current and forthcoming knowledge.
- Showcasing the role of research and iterative design.
Game design informs my academic practice. In the context of Jane McGonigal's work, each class is a game level, each assignment a quest or mission. Studio design classes blend playful exploration with a fast-moving timer. Software skill classes sometimes require a grind to unlock new rewarding abilities. Classmates are set up to become allies in the face of educational challenges.
Example assignments that leverage game design include "Bad Game" & " Hot Potato." “Hot Potato” is a classic game in which a faux potato is tossed about before a timer chimes. In my version, students need to make statements before tossing the potato. Comments on classmates' work, ideas for projects, thoughts on potential challenges are all fair game. After each timer chimes, we take a moment to reflect on the quick answers and decide whether we continue with the topic or change it. Shy students laugh a lot, especially if they win the game. Talkative students flesh out the time between rounds. Outside of the game, we discuss the process of generating ideas and how to refine them as a team. Overall "Hot Potato" works, by devaluing the need for initial ideas to be good ideas (unless repeated) which encourages their attention. The randomness of the time for chiming creates a balanced playing field between students. The need for ideas also sparked my "Bad Game" assignment. Students write up a single paragraph for a horrible game idea that they then hand off to a classmate. The receiving classmate is then tasked into making the bad game idea into a good game idea. The original classmate acts as a client throughout the initial process. Starting with a bad idea and placing students as developer and client creates a novel shared challenge. The idea is bad, neither wants ownership and both need to go outside their comfort zones to make it work. Forced to work together to turn the bad idea good and to save themselves, the students are officially on a quest.
Students quickly discover that coming up with ideas is challenging whether they be good or bad ones. We reflect on the "Hot Potato" process and the value of getting multiple ideas on paper. They also learn that bad ideas are not always bad. Longer versions of this can grow into team assignments where a game design document, concept art, or actual game is produced.