Hello, and thank you for reading this guide!
This guide is for teachers who are thinking of designing their own learning games. It’s an introduction to some basic aspects of game design, and how to think about designing games for learning.
We hope it helps you get started!
Is this toolkit for you?Edit
If you can answer ‘yes’ to these questions, then you are well-placed to get the most from this toolkit (we’ll assume that you are at least a novice computer user. You won’t need any programming or super-technical skills).
- • Do you enjoy stories?
- • Do you want to use play in your lessons?
- • Have you played a video game before? (even mobile games count!)
- • Do you enjoy trying new approaches in your teaching?
- • Do you believe learning is a fun activity?
How to Use this GuideEdit
This toolkit introduces you to the process of designing your first game for learning. Game design is an iterative, hands-on process. It’s not something you can do by simply following a set of instructions but this guide is here to give you the best start we can - an idea that makes a solid foundation for a great learning game.
We offer three examples of learning games and the questions you should consider as part of the development process.
You could choose one of these examples and follow it to create your own design or you could tweak and edit them as you feel comfortable. They’re intended as jumping-off points – once you have your own ideas for turning your teaching into a game, try them out!
These three types of games are simple but could also be used for different learning outcomes than what we suggest. If you’re thinking of other types of games not covered in this guide, you can e-mail email@example.com for more advice.
Points to Remember About GamesEdit
1. Games are interactive stories.
2. Some games have stories that we uncover as we play them.
3. Other games help us make our own stories through a shared narrative; e.g. Students recounting the events in a game and adding humour to it.
4. Think about the stories you want your game to tell its players.
5. Games require skills to play.
- • Some games – like chess – require critical thinking. Others – like pool – may require hand-eye coordination.
6. Making games is 'hard fun'.
- • If you don’t find making your game a challenging activity, then you’re probably not doing it right! =]
Learning and GamesEdit
Some points to consider:
- • Have players do tasks themselves, rather than watching or reading passively.
- • Give players feedback.
- • How do they know how well they’re doing?
- • How do you know?
- • Build in time for players to reflect on and discuss what they’re doing.
Games and StudentsEdit
Think about students’ expectations of what learning with game would look like. Are they comparing it with a console game or a regular lesson?
Try not to reward only performance in the game: winning isn’t everything.
Don’t assume that all students enjoy or are skilled at playing computer games.
Think about how the game will fit in your lessons:
- • Do you want to split the class into two with one half working on a related activity before swapping?
- • Do you want to demo the game? When – at the start? Half-way through?
- • How much time is there for discussion? Reflection? Technical difficulties?
- • Do students have to finish the game in one lesson?
The Building Blocks of Games
Games are made up of fundamental elements. We're going to think about three of these:
- • Space
- • Narrative
- • Players
We're going to describe three example games. Each one revolves around one of these three important building blocks.
Games take place in a space.
For chess, the space is two dimensional, on a horizontal plane. Players can see the whole space.
In a platform game, the space is two dimensional again, but on a vertical plane, and you can't usually see the whole space.
There are rules about how you can move in the space - straight lines, jumping up, ducking down.
In this guide, we're going to discuss three-dimensional game space we call a “sandbox world”, in which you can see a representation of yourself in the world – an avatar. You see what it sees. You can run in any direction, jump and even fly.
There's no over-arching narrative, instead, you can create lots of little stories, activities and mini-quests for players.
All games have some sort of story.
It could appear just to set the scene - like the backstory of Space Invaders - or it might drive everything you do in the game.
An adventure game has one sort of story. A racing tournament has another kind.
In this guide, we're going to talk about a mystery game, one where players have to find clues and solve puzzles to piece it all together. A really compelling mystery is a powerful way of engaging students.
The narrative shapes who players are in the game, what they can do and what challenges they face.
In a way, all games create a narrative as well - the history of what players did when they played them. For students, going over this sort of personal narrative can be a valuable opportunity for reflection.
Without someone to make choices, there is no game - your idea would be more like a film.
Some games are made to be played by one person. Others let people play one at a time, but in competition with each other; e.g. 'Player 2' tries to do better than 'Player 1'. Many games let two players compete directly with each other such as fighting games or sports simulations like tennis.
In this guide, we're going to talk about a multiplayer team game, with two teams of players competing against each other.
Links with LearningEdit
Some features of these game formats make them better suited to particular learning goals and activities. As you go through the guide, think about which ones seem to suit your teaching most.
- • Sandbox
- For many teachers, using this sort of game in their teaching is straightforward. It's easy to adapt to fit existing lesson plans, and place different media, e.g, video, text or images, in various locations around the world; creating a virtual learning trail.
- • Mystery
- A mystery game requires players to form hypotheses, make deductions and keep track of a complex situation.
- It might suit teachers who want students to think critically, or to engage with lots of different styles of language through the characters and clues in the game. Teachers using a 'problem-based learning' approach might see strong connections with their existing teaching.
- • Team Game
- This is probably the most complex of the game examples in this guide. Play unfolds in real-time, with players interacting with each other while they try and meet the demands of the game.
- It's a good format for modeling social and group behaviours, and it can give students the chance to experience situations rather than just read about them.
- Teachers with an interest in leadership or moral education might find this format interesting, as well as teachers who want students to 'inhabit' complex situations like an ecosystem.
Some Practical ConsiderationsEdit
These different games require different levels of effort to create.
With the sandbox format, students will often only need to play a game once to get the most value from the experience.
The mystery and team formats have greater replayability - but they take more effort to develop, too.
Depending on your learning goals and school timetable, you might not need to worry about students playing your game many times. However, remember richer, more complex games might be more rewarding and better suited for deeper explorations of topics.
What Takes the Most Time?Edit
Sandbox → Creating an interesting virtual world for players.
Mystery → Coming up with an engaging story and plot twists.
Team game → Developing objectives and goals.
We're presenting these three examples in a simplified way to illustrate three core game elements and to help you get started.
In reality, there could be a lot of overlap with these games. You could use the sandbox format to model a complex system, for example, and have students observe how it works. Or you could have teams of mystery-solvers working against the clock in a CSI: Singapore competition.
There are a lot of other options that you might come up with once you've seen these examples.
Designing Virtual Learning Trails
What are our learning goals?
- • Understanding conflict.
- • Managing information (media literacy).
- • Communication – persuading & influencing.
What do we want students to do to accomplish these?
- • Gather & synthesize evidence & information.
- • Prepare for in-class debate.
• What is the premise of the world?
• Who are the denizens of this world?
• What is the player trying to discover?
What is the premise of the world?Edit
What does it look like?
- • Is it urban? Natural? Based on a historical society or ancient civilisation? Is it set in the future or the present day?
- • Is it sparse or dense? Is the information students need easy to find, or concealed?
What is the background story?
- • Why should the player explore this world? Why is it interesting?
- • Ideally the world should be dramatic and exciting. For example, if the subject is environmental conservation, the story could be about a town where people have poor health due to pollution from a factory that employs most of its citizens.
Example: Setting & BackgroundEdit
• The game is set in a modern city, which is experiencing civil unrest.
• The city is tense. There are signs of riots & the response from the authority: empty streets, burning debris, broken glass, vandalised cars.
• The environment of the city is very polluted, which seems unrelated to the riots.
- • The Prime Gas and Energy Refinery is the largest employer in the city – and it’s been ordered to be shut down for causing pollution. The union is demanding the plant be restarted and are questioning the environmental reports. They allege that the shutdown is politically motivated, as many of the workforce are immigrants.
- • But the city council won’t back down. The pollution is suspected to be the primary cause of a high cancer incidence amongst the local population.
- • Riots break out between the union and environmental activists.
- • In response, the authorities have ordered a city-wide curfew.
Who are the denizens of this world?Edit
Who are the characters that the students portray in the world?
- • Ideally there should be classes of characters that represent a need, ability or point of view in the world. (Think ‘detectives’ rather than ‘Sherlock Holmes’)
What do they look like?
- • Choose from the huge library of customisable and non-customisable characters in 3DHive.
- • Players' characters are a group of university students from various backgrounds returning to the city, who are trying to defuse the tension.
- • Young, informal appearance.
- • Diverse ethnic backgrounds.
What is the player trying to discover?Edit
- • What is the objective of the player in the world?
- • What are they trying to establish or achieve?
- • What kinds of media will they discover?
- • How is the media found? (Is it in the open or is it concealed?)
Points to consider:
- • It’s better to not make the link with learning too obvious; e.g., ‘Algebra Land; a place where people always talk about algebra' might not engage students.
- • There should be a conflict. A good example is the tension between environmental and economic sustainability of an activity.
- • What they need to discover should be in some way related to all the material they research.
- • The information the students discover should cover multiple points of view.
- • Students should be able to arrive at their own conclusions from the available materials.
Example: Player GoalsEdit
Players have to engineer an amicable settlement
- • They have to understand each side’s positions, and present both to their peers in a real-world discussion To support this, they have to collect evidence within the game.
- • This could be footage of speeches, news articles, scientific data on pollutants, statistics on immigration, or interviews reflecting different characters’ points of view.
Finding clues, solving puzzles
What are our learning goals?
- • Critical and inventive thinking.
- • Problem solving.
What do we want students to do to accomplish these?
- • Record and keep track of information.
- • Make connections between clues.
- • Use logic to make deductions.
What / who / why is the player investigating?
- • Players should gain better insight of the characters, situations and relationships as you peel away the various layers of the mystery.
How are players’ suspicions aroused?
- • Mystery stories are often set against a background of normal, everyday life. However players soon notice that all is not as it appears on the surface.
What is the big reveal?
- • The big reveal should be unexpected – but also make players think “Aha! I knew it!”
What is the player investigating?Edit
How do they know where to start looking?
- • The most obvious is a ‘Narrator assist’ device where the information is presented to them at the start of the game.
- • More sophisticated games may have the players trying to discover their role in the world by deciphering clues available in the introduction of the game.
Why should they care?
- • At the start of the game, the player’s character could be given the mission without any personal involvement in the mystery. (e.g. Detective hired to work a case)
- • Good mysteries, however, often reveal a twist where the players’ own characters have some direct stake in solving the mystery.
Example: Characters and MotivationsEdit
Players are private investigators investigating a string of murders on behalf of the Mayor.
It’s important to the characters because:
- • It’s their job to solve murders – and a high-profile case like this one will be good for their careers.
- • The city is living in panic – solving this mystery might let everyone’s lives return to normality.
How are players’ suspicions aroused?Edit
The starting point of the game should provide the anchor to the students about what everyday life should look like.
Choose a theme and map that is appropriate for the mystery.
This enables them to see the oddity or mystery in the first place and also provides the motivation to solve it.
Example: Suspicions ArousedEdit
To begin with, the case looks like a simple case of murder.
- • But the number of deaths over such a wide area makes people question possible motives and means.
- • It’s not a straightforward case after all.
What is the big reveal?Edit
It’s more engaging for players if clues are clustered together; revealing information in successive layers. Each layer should lead you closer to the big reveal. Start with the big reveal and layer it behind such clues that point to the big reveal when put together. Do the same thing for each of the clues that lead up to the big reveal.
Example: Layers of ProgressEdit
- • Most deaths take place in poor areas.
- • Most deaths connected to the docks.
- • No external sign of injury.
- • Victims are living alone, not seen for a while before they die, and discovered in beds.
- • Big reveal is that the deaths are not from murders at all – the victims died due to a plague epidemic.
Helpful Techniques for Creating MysteryEdit
‘Chekhov’s Gun’ Technique
- • Chekhov was a Russian playwright who suggested that if a gun is shown in the first act of a play, it should be fired by the third act. It’s a way of thinking about foreshadowing.
- • For example: if the students in an environmental conservation game are to discover that the power plant is causing pollution, there should be a character in the game who coughs a lot and is later discovered to be living near the power plant.
’Red Herring’ Technique
- • ‘Red herring’ is an idiomatic expression referring to the rhetorical or literary tactic of diverting attention away from an item of significance.
- • For example: in mystery fiction, where the identity of a criminal is being sought, an innocent party may be purposefully cast in a guilty light by the author through the employment of deceptive clues or false emphasis.
- • It deliberately breaks the ‘Chekhov’s gun’ principle for dramatic effect.
Real-time social competition
What are our learning goals?
- • Animal adaptations (structural & behavioural).
- • Teamwork & strategic thinking.
What do we want students to do to accomplish these?
- • Take on the role of different animals & compete as a team in a simulated savannah.
- • Review performance & develop effective strategies for winning the game.
- • Who are the players?
- • Where is the game set?
- • What is the nature of the competition between teams?
- • Why should the members of the team work together?
Who are the players?Edit
- • A natural opposition between teams makes the game more fun.
- • For example, the lions and the zebras in our example are naturally at odds with each other.
Where is the game set?Edit
In a competitive game, the field of play strongly influences the outcome.
- • Maps should be balanced for all teams, with no team enjoying an advantage over the other.
- • Imagine what would happen if one team in football had a goal three times the size of the other teams, or if one of the goals was behind a row of dense bushes.
- • The competition takes place in a bounded plain set in the grasslands of Africa. Groves of trees are dotted around the playing area.
- • Players are different animals, with different needs and abilities.
- • Prey: zebras, deer and wildebeest.
- • Predators: lions, hyenas and cheetahs.
- • Each animal has abilities similar to their real-life counterparts
- • Cheetahs are fast.
- • Lions attack strongly.
- • Zebras have a lot of stamina.
What is the nature of the competition between teams?Edit
Examples of competition:
- • Which team reaches a location first.
- • Which team collects a specified number of items first (perhaps they have to return the items to a specific place on the map).
- • Which team completes a building first.
- • Which team completes a set of tasks first (such as solving problems).
Types of natures of competition:
- • Directly competitive - One team must defeat other teams to succeed.
- • Resource competitive - teams have different goals but must contend for resources.
- • Parallel objectives - teams have goals that have little or no bearing on other teams’ goals.
Example: Nature of CompetitionEdit
- • The goal of the game is for each team to collect a certain number of kJ energy by eating food.
- • Carnivores eat the herbivores.
- • Herbivores have to look for suitable vegetation.
- • Parallel objectives – each is trying to be the first to complete their goals.
How can team members be encouraged to work together?Edit
The goal of the game should be too challenging for one player to complete effectively.
- • The characters may get necessary boosts if working together as a team.
- • The characters that make up the team should be diverse with different strengths.
- • For example, some characters could be stronger while others may be faster.
There might be a variety of tasks to perform simultaneously.
- • For example a game may require a team to be the first to both build a building and collect a specified amount to food to win.
Example: Encouraging Team PlayEdit
- • Different features of characters lend themselves to different strategies.
- • Herbivores get a stamina bonus if they run in a herd – without this, it is easier for the carnivores to catch them.
- • Carnivores are too slow to catch prey on their own – they have to hunt in packs.
So you’ve read this guide, you’ve got some ideas and you’re keen to keep exploring. What can you do now? Here are some possible ways for you to keep making games part of your teaching. Found another way? Let us know!
Talk to ColleaguesEdit
- • Speak to like-minded colleagues. It’s easier to keep going if there are a few of you!
- • Many schools organise activities for teachers’ professional development – Learning Teams, for example, or action research groups.
- • Your game could be the subject of a project group.
Look for Other GroupsEdit
- • There are many teachers in Singapore and around the world exploring games and learning.
- • Blogs, mailing lists and message boards are good ways to learn more about their experiences.
Work with PlaywareEdit
- • There are ways Playware can continue to support you.
- • You could read the Game Creation with 3DHive.builder guide to learn more about using 3D Hive.
- • Your colleagues could sign up for a hands-on workshop to develop your ideas further.
Get in TouchEdit
If you want to:
- • learn more about games and teaching
- • hear about other schools’ experiences
- • get practical help developing your own games then contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!