As mentioned earlier, I’m honored to have been invited to a conference held by the Center for Children and Technology last week. The title of the conference was Making Games That Teach Difficult Concepts, and it brought together game designers and academics to discuss issues perplexing to both.
We broke into small groups to focus on games for middle school science, middle school social studies, and early childhood. I was in the social studies group, admirably led by Bill Tally at CCT, where among other things he is the PI for evaluation studies of Mission US, a history game focusing on revolutionary America.
One of the challenges of history games we mulled over is the question of game mechanics. As I’ve opined elsewhere, good game mechanics involve key learning elements. The classic example is traditional dominoes, which requires players to count by fives in order to succeed, making it a great game for teaching basic arithmetic to children.
In history games, though, the primary learning dynamic often takes place through text. Narrative action is thus often the key mechanic in which learning takes place. This led to much discussion regarding the problem of compelling game play, with fascinating insights from participants such as Bert Snow, lead designer and VP at Muzzy Lane, and Tracy Fullerton over at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
Conferences such as this one are important in bringing together multiple perspectives. Knowledge and understanding gleaned from these discussions further preparations for research and development of future educational games. My thanks to all the good people at CCT who made this conference possible.