Thursday, 7 April 2005

Learning to Play to Learn - Lessons in Educational Game Design

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As stated in the beginning of the article, "use of games in education" is a hot topic. The authors rightly pointed out that there is a huge gap between game designers and educators in the understanding of issues in "using games" in education.

Educators are energized by games' ability to engage with students, to capture their wayward attention and help them learn in rich and dynamic ways. Game designers and developers are increasingly drawn to create educational games as well - perhaps from a desire to make new kinds of games, to create work with a purpose beyond pure entertainment, or even just as an escape from the rigid confines of the mainstream game industry. Each of these camps - developers and educators - has its own agenda for taking on projects, its own set of particular dissatisfactions with the current crop of educational games, and - all too often - a complete lack of experience with the concerns of those working on the other side.

I will let you read the article yourself. However, I do want to emphasis one key point brought out by the authors. Embrace the "Gameness" of Games.

The excitement of games doesn't magically emerge from fancy graphics, well-written stories, or point-based rewards. Good games integrate a number of complex elements (moments of decision-making, challenging goals, rewarding feedback, etc.) to create a fun play experience.

Among all these elements, I believe the ability for the player to be genuinely creative to tackle the problem (presented by the game) is very important too. Like playing chess, you can make whatever move you like, but you also suffer the consequence of your choice. Stupid moves lead to losing the game! Many "educational games" provide limited choices, supported by the notion of scaffolding, is exactly the kind of thinking in educator's mind which kills the joy of game.

In Fablusi role play simulation, we want to activate player's imagination. We want the players to own the persona they are playing as well as own the actions taken. As noted in our guide to the moderator, when we notice that the player may be in difficulties, we only provide them with suggestions (always more than one) and guide them to take their own action.

From our many formative evaluations, we also notice how engaging Fablusi role play simulations have been to the students. We do not need to specify the minimum amount of interaction. Instead, we specify the maximum number of sim-mails that they can send per day. This engaging nature is the result of the "gameness" of the role play simulation. We don't have expensive graphics. Our story lines are simple (no story boards), just a few kick-start episodes and a scenario with a number of threads of potential of conflict and co-operation. We don't have explicit winner or loser. But each team playing a persona is asked to set up their own agenda and they judge their own winning or losing against their own achievement of the agenda.

Designing a "game" is expensive! Designing a Fablusi role play simulation is cheap and fast. Roni can do one in about 1 day. You may take longer. To start, download the design worksheet from Fablusi and good luck!

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