Games are bloody great!

Photo Credit: Viral Pirate
Photo Credit: Viral Pirate

What makes a game great?

Challenge without being overly difficult.

I think back to a game which I found incredibly frustrating when I first started playing it. However it became more accessible as I became more familiar with the game mechanics and controls – Disney’s Castle of illusion.

This game also has a beautiful narrative which really draws the game player into the game – the narration in this game is absolutely first class (as exampled by my son and daughter’s wide eyes and open mouths as the narrator continues to retell a disneyesque tale of woe and wonder).

I could see this game being a wonderful tool to use with younger children in years 2-4 (grade 1 -3). The problem solving element and fine motor controls also give this game extra cache.

Narrative and Story line.

If a game has a strong story line then you will immediately become more attached to the game. This includes the interaction between different characters, the conversations they have, sudden revelations, the build up, tension created…etc. There are so many games which have these elements – Tomb Raider, Devil May Cry, Resident Evil/Biohazard, Bio Shock, Mario, Starcraft 2…this list goes on.

However, I think the one game narrative which really stood out for me was the original Tomb Raider. I played this as part of a collaborative gaming experience alongside my university flatmates – come on, we’ve all done it.

The whole experience was highly addictive and massively enjoyable! The story-line and problem solving made us work together to solve the various different levels. It didn’t actually matter that we weren’t always the game player; it mattered that we were all contributing something to the experience (whether we were shouting encouragement, offering advice or playing the game).

Whilst playing some platform games on the iPad, I have actually had my children come over to watch me play the game (my wife isn’t too happy about this by the way). As they watch me, they give me advice and encouragement. They have actually clapped me on the back, hugged me, encouraged me, berated me, smiled, cried and screamed at me. Imagine what this would look like in the classroom?

Problem solving and Reward.

It goes without saying that problem solving is an incredibly important part of the game – maybe the most important? If there are no problems to overcome then there is no point to the game. You have to have two things to make this part of the game work – you need to have the process of trial and error (which needs to be just right to make it accessible but not impossible) and you need to have a reward to match the effort you have gone through to solve the problem.

One of the most important parts of this process is the link between the narrative and the reward. I honestly can’t remember the number of times I have completed a level only to be blown a way by the follow-up story; an example being the sudden revelation that the ‘end of level boss’ is merely a smaller part of a much bigger problem.

The reward must also provide the player with a suitable prize if it is to be of value. Personally, I enjoy games where the prize somehow allows the player to better their character, business, empire or nation. One game which I think does this really well is X-COM! This is a brilliant game for those who are interested in strategic thinking, tension, narrative and turn-based tactics. What makes X-Com work so well is the way you have to capture aliens or alien technology to gain access to better resources for your own team of hard-ass alien fighters. Coupled to this – I have to say, that generally, I am a massive fan of the:

find tool – research tool – reward = new mega tool for game character(s).

I am aware that many or most of the games I have mentioned are, on the whole, unsuitable for the classroom. However, there is undoubted potential for games of all types, to be used in the classroom. The key is to access and adapt these game elements in the activities and lessons you plan. Then you can begin to engage the children in a way which hasn’t been used in times past. It doesn’t have to be online games. It can card, board, paper or physical/sports games.

Way of the Game cycle

Narrative – Problem to Solve – Challenge – Reward with narrative – Problem to solve – Challenge…    

Weekly ‘End of level Boss’!

This week I intend to continue introducing the game – Civilization Revolution for the iPad into pre-lesson, break and lunch time sessions. The only difference being that I will ask two different pairs of students to trial the game this week. I am also going to ask the previous pairs of students to complete the following Google Survey. Hopefully, this will give me a better idea of game’s ability to engage and activate the student’s interest in History.

Early indications suggest that the students enjoy the game and are eager to continue playing it; in fact, one of the students has enjoyed it so much that he has decided to buy the game.

However, it is also fair to say that they while they have enjoyed playing the game they haven’t found it as easy as they first thought and are struggling with the king or mid-level difficulty rating.

If any of you are interested in having a go at introducing the App, I have included two very poorly-made videos I used to introduce the game to those students who were trialing the game.

Video One

Video Two