Creating Video Games in the Classroom
By Ronnie Scullion, Toronto 4 Kids, Educator Zone, May 2010
When Liam or Ashley sits down at the computer to do homework, an eyebrow or two may be raised when mom or dad sees him/her playing video games – “but our teacher said we have to! It’s homework!”
“but our teacher said we have to [play video games]! It’s homework!”
When we think of classrooms, most people do not think of video games. Playing video games in the classroom – how absurd! But in reality video games and other types of multimedia are entering into the educational system just as they have entered our homes and the lives of our children!
Step aside Anne of Green Gables and enter Harry Potter – Harry Potter: the books, the movies, the video games. Gaming has become an extension of the story experience. So many beloved story characters past and present have appeared on the big screen in recent years, and subsequently appear in video games – The Cat in the Hat; the hobbits, wizards, goblins and other creatures that once roamed Middle Earth in the pages of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings can now be found in video games as well.
It makes me wonder about our children’s experience of literature and life when so many parts of it have become digitized.
When we introduce literature to our children or students, they not only learn vocabulary and grammar, but benefit from the worlds and opinions opened up to them – some historical, others imaginative, emotional and some containing enduring truths. Students introduced to literature will soon develop the skills to craft their own stories.
An analogy can be drawn here. When children, and in fact people of any age, are introduced to video games, they invariably pick up computer skills. Playing video games are the quickest way I know of to become ‘computer literate’. Games can be fun or challenging; can open up new worlds and experiences to us. Why then shouldn’t it follow that children and youth introduced to video games will soon develop the skills to craft their own games?
It can follow if we help them develop those skills. If we demystify the game creation experience, bring it into the educational system and allow it to flourish as another form of expression. The skills the students need to create their own video games are already being taught: math, logic, storytelling and visual arts.
Exactly what value can creating Video Games in the classroom offer?
Creating video games in the classroom will:
• Engage students in subject matter. Children learn better when they are engaged.
• Allow students to acquire a diverse skill set.
• Exercise team building skills and encourage collaborative work.
Let’s take a closer look at these three aspects. Creating video games will engage students. The worlds of Mario and Luigi, Link and Zelda and other heroes have become an integral part of a child’s world. Imagine what could happen when students begin to create and engineer their own video game worlds! Worlds where they determine the action and where they make the rules!
Creating Video Games would mesh well with many school subjects. Games readily lend themselves well to illustrating historical events, battles or exploration of new worlds. Games can also illustrate topics for Health Science units. Imagine – Bacterial Wars!
A game of chance or probability can illustrate climate change scenarios – the “what ifs”? Students will become truly engaged not only in what they are creating, but also in what they are learning. And whether they know it or not they will be increasing their computer, language and math skills. Creating games will allow students to acquire diverse skill sets. Students will exercise the abilities and skills they have and acquire proficiency in other areas. Making games has a natural appeal to a wide range of students with diverse interests and skills because of the different components that go into making games.
The process of creating games involves both creativity and logical thinking. It follows that it will attract interest from the mathematically and logically inclined students as well as those with strong art interests and creative skills. For both these sets of students creating games will allow them to round out their skill sets. It will allow many students to shine and show off their skills and abilities as well as acquire proficiency in new areas.
And finally, once students have grasped the basic concepts of game design and creation a team approach can be used. The video game industry, draws people from many disciplines and fields: computer programmers, graphic artists, musicians and game designers. Student groups can emulate a game design studio with the students taking on the various roles of designer, art director, programmer and game tester.
Team skills are part of the soft skills needed to succeed in today’s economy. Having students work in groups and taking on different roles within the group will help develop these essential skills.
In summary, the value of teaching students to create their own video games is clear. Communicating with children in a format they are familiar with and easily engaged in, is infinitely more meaningful than the (sometimes) dry delivery of a traditional textbook.
Getting students to create their own games gives students an opportunity to use skills they are already acquiring – mathematics and analytical skills, creative writing and artistic skills – and put them to use in a ‘real world’ and really awesome fashion! Creating games is fast becoming a creative outlet and a new form of self-expression for many young people.