I work for a company called pixelfountain who design, develop and deliver games based learning primarily to the adult training and development market. We have recently been given the opportunity however, to work on a very exciting educational project. We will be helping design a game aimed at 13 year old Science students across the UK (and ultimately across the EU and US). We are developing this game in partnership with LeoPink and YumPod Group, which is the brainchild of a young entrepreneur called Aaron (have a look at their Facebook group here). Without giving too much away, I though I’d share some of the design issues that we have taken into consideration with you. It is almost like a diary and will be of interest to anyone interested in games based learning, designing a game, or buying a game in.
- The game must contain enough curriculum-specific educational material while still being fun. We also didn’t want the game to be more like e-learning which many educational ‘games’ tend to be: some educational material, followed by some questions, sometimes followed by an unrelated arcade game.
- The game must be appropriate for 13 year olds; not too childish, but also not too sophisticated and most importantly, we want it to have a sense of humour and be a bit of a laugh. This has affected the look and feel of the game as well as the writing style and so on.
- The game must appeal to both genders and an array of personalities and interests. Our main characters are split equally gender-wise. These characters also have their own interests, which span the curriculum and wider extra-curricular world.
- The game needed also needed to be playable by an array of students. We have split the game into several mini-games, which are of different styles i.e. an arcade game, a small learning simulation and a racing game. We also factored in that some students might have less gaming experience / ability than others. Therefore, we have built in non-gaming ways of earning points and so on.
- The game should primarily be used for science and therefore, map directly to the Science curriculum and in particular Unit 9C Fit and healthy. However, this curriculum area touches on parts of other subjects, such as PSHEE and History. Therefore, we have tried to make the game usable in these areas too.
- One of the less generalisable design considerations of this project is that our game included time travel and parallel universes amongst other things. Therefore, while not being too picky, we had to consider some of the science fiction ‘rules’ about time travel and make sure there were no complete gaping plot holes in this area.
- Some of the curriculum areas that we are tackling in the game are also reasonably sensitive. For example, the game discusses healthy eating, diet and exercise. We didn’t want any child to be the butt of jokes or to be picked on, so we had to be sensitive to these issues in our design of the game and characters.
- The game needs to be played over several lessons, with each lesson involving only 20 minutes of game-play. This means that we have split the game into smaller chucks, or ‘missions’. We will also produce additional lesson material to be used around the game.
- The missions of the game are also playable in any order and relate to different parts of the curriculum (beyond Unit 9C). This means that the teacher has control over when they want to play the game (after certain units, topics and so on).
- Teacher control is a big issue with educational games. Teachers often complain that they have no control over the learning process. We have built into our games pause points, which require the pupils to give their attention to the teacher and they cannot move on until they have collected a code from them.
I’ll keep you posted on our progress and can’t wait to show you the final product. Please do like YumPod Group on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.