Results from the Game Design Challenge: Black History Month [11.13.08]
- Manveer Heir and GameCareerGuide.com staff
In a recent game design challenge, we asked you to imagine you were in this situation: A teacher friend of yours asks you to help her come up with a game idea that could help reinforce her Black History Month curriculum.
Submissions to this Game Design Challenge covered topics from the first African-America astronaut, to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, to the Civil Rights movement in the United States.
In the end, many compelling entries were created that not only gave students something fun to do, but also taught them about a moment in Black history at the same time. Many of these games had natural progression blocks where the teacher would be able to teach in a more traditional manner to reinforce the material.
Designing for education is very different than designing for pure entertainment. You must consider the material that you are trying to teach and how to represent it through game mechanics, without altering the information or sapping its importance.
The game itself doesn't need to teach everything, but when coupled with traditional teaching tools, the sum of the learning experience must be strengthened. As a result, the game must account for the environment in which it will be presented, in this case a classroom (instead of, for example, the internet, where it could be played outside the classroom context).
The best entries did that and even explained how the teacher would be able to teach based on the game.
Patrick Mousel, Student, Flashpoint Academy, Chicago, The Underground Railroad (see page 2)
Patrick Mousel's game idea, to recreate abstractly what the Underground Railroad was, works for a number of reasons. First, it costs next to nothing to create. Second, it takes minutes to learn how to play. Third, it can be played a little at a time, giving the teacher flexibility to work the game into her existing class time. Fourth, it is a good inductive opener (which is a teacherly way of saying "an exercise that piques interest to learn more"). The game itself engages the students without trying to immediately impart lessons or a list of facts, which keeps the game fun. Although the subject matter is heavy, the game is abstracted enough to remove the severity, which the teacher can introduce in a more appropriate and sensitive way later.
Ryan Blazso, Ohio University, Civil Rights Campaign Manager (see page 3)
Ryan Blazso's game idea teaches two things: first, about the events and leaders who brought about the Civil Rights Act of 1968 band second, the processes of American government. We liked in particular the use of a timeline. The concept, as written, is a little hazy (we couldn't quite imagine how the game would look, how long it would take to play, etc.), but Blazso's design philosophy is intact and strong. He suggests the teacher would have input into the game's design, so perhaps he left many of the specifics intentionally open.
Enrique Saúl González, graduate student from the University of Tokyo, Time Adventure (see page 4)
This submission from Enrique Saúl González put great effort into making sure all the requirements of the challenge were met appropriately. And they were. The mock-up that accompanied the submission helped us envision what this game would be like, as well as the reference to Phoenix Wright. (A useful way to explain game ideas is to make analogies and references to existing games when applicable. It lets your audience know you share common ground and gives them something to immediately grasp.)
Matthew Cantelon, Telecom Worker, Levi Coffin and the Escape Map (see page 5)
Like Ryan Blazso's idea, Matthew Cantelon's game concept blends two subjects: history of the Underground Railroad and geography. In this turn-based strategy game, students play on a map of Ohio and Indiana, looking for routes to areas of freedom. The specificity of Ohio and Indiana would be especially appealing to teachers and students in these states.
David McClure, unemployed, The Struggle For Justice (see page 6)
David McClure's idea for a game takes on too grand a scope to be feasible, but there are some good ideas in there that could be refined and pinned down to something more manageable.
E. McNeill, Dartmouth College, Black History RPG (see page 7)
E. McNeill spend a bit too much time in his submission explaining what the game won't be, but like David McClure's submission, there are a few gem ideas in there.