Friday, February 26, 2016

Educational Games: The Big Picture Parts III and IV

The first article in the Educational Games: The Big Picture series on Games + Learning, "Is the School Market Still Just a Mirage?", focused on the issue of getting games into the classroom.  Part II was about development funding sources.  Parts III and IV, "The Merging of Entertainment Games and GBL" and "Facing Edutainment's Dark Legacy," are about the use of entertainment games in education.

By Clarence1996 on DeviantArt
It's essentially thinking about the problem from the other side.  The first article explained the hardships and problems with making a profit targeting schools. In order to recoup costs, some companies considered selling those games made for the classroom to consumer markets.  But instead of that, what about bypassing the school market entirely? 

The educational potential of commercial games is exactly why educators became interested in using games in the classroom.  Commercial games have inherent educational properties that can be adapted, or modded, for classroom use.  MineCraft and Kerbal Space Program are two commercial hits that have been adapted by Teacher Gaming.

For entertainment developers, the educational market could be a secondary revenue stream, especially for hits that have already run their course in the entertainment market.

Read more about how entertainment companies have become educational game developers in "The Merging of Entertainment Games and GBL" and how some developers are straddling the divide by focusing on entertainment with educational value in "Facing Edutainment's Dark Legacy."

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What's Wrong With Pre-K Game Apps

In this article, game designer Sande Chen explains why some Pre-K educational game apps may actually be disrupting the learning process.

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center recently released the report, "Getting a Read on the App Stores: A Market Scan and Analysis of Children's Literacy Apps." Disappointingly, the majority of children's apps, although labeled "educational," didn't have any benchmark of educational quality and moreover, they weren't even game-like, featuring content that had wrong or right answers or actions.  Basically, they were interactive quizzes.

I had suggested in Journal Review: Game-Based Learning in India that perhaps we should be thinking about designing an app for a group of children rather than just one.  It turns out that young children learn best when an app is designed for co-use by a child and another caring individual, like a parent, babysitter, or sibling.  Only 2 of the 170 apps reviewed in the children's literacy report had any support for co-use.

Have we been designing children's apps wrongly?  An April 2015 study entitled "Putting Education in 'Educational' Apps: Lessons From the Science of Learning" describes what not to do:
"The app began by reading the story to the child, and the narrative was progressing naturally with an introduction of the main characters and a story arc when buttons were suddenly displayed on the screen and children were asked to find things that “begin with the letter C.”
Adding these interactive activities or interactive hotspots, sections of the screen that move or make noise but are not essential to the story, may seem natural to game designers, but it turns out this is detrimental to the child's learning process.  And it's worse when the app is for pre-schoolers.  Older children may be able to focus, but pre-schoolers are especially susceptible to distraction.  Researchers have studied the areas of distraction and attention extensively in children. 

Furthermore, very few Pre-K apps are open-ended enough that the child can direct the play.  I have always heard that children's games should be very directed, with big arrows guiding the child to do the programmed activity, but according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, "When play is allowed to be child-driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest and ultimately engage fully."

This kind of play is so important that neuroscientist Sergio Pellis found in studies of baby rats that the brains of play-deprived rats do not develop normally.

As developers, let's learn to optimize learning rather than destroy it!

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Want to Write for Video Games? Gameacon 2015 Panel

In this podcast, game writers Sande Chen, Francisco Gonzalez, and Matthue Roth, along with moderator Alexander Bevier, discuss how to break into the game industry as a writer.

Want to Write for Video Games? 
Gameacon November 19-22, 2015

Moderated by video game scholar Alexander Bevier, panelists Sande Chen, Francisco Gonzalez, and Matthue Roth shed light on what writers do in the industry, how newcomers can get their start, and why writers are desperately needed in the video game industry. Learn about the growing field of narrative design and how games are affected by creative narrative design. The panel gives a fascinating look at an often overlooked part of the video game development process.

Games discussed:  Tetris, Half Life 2, The Witcher, Shadow of the Colossus, Gamestar Mechanic, World of Lexica, Terminus, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Monkey Island 2, League of Legends, Assassin's Creed 2, Shardlight, Bioshock Infinite, Mass Effect, 80 Days

Thanks to everyone who came to our panel!

If you weren't able to come to Gameacon this year, check it out next year on October 27-30, 2016 at the Tropicana Casino Resort in Atlantic City, NJ. Here's footage from Gameacon 2015.

A writer and game designer, Sande Chen has over 15 years experience in the industry. Her first game writing credit was on the epic space-combat RPG, Terminus, which won 2 awards at the 1999 Independent Games Festival. She was later nominated for a 2007 Writers Guild of America award in Videogame Writing for the dark fantasy RPG, The Witcher. She runs the WGAE Videogame Writers Caucus and is SIG leader of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Francisco Gonzalez has been writing and designing point and click adventure games since 2001. His favorite aspect of designing narrative based games is the writing process, and being able to create worlds and make characters come to life. He currently works at Wadjet Eye Games as a designer.

Matthue Roth is a game designer, producer, and writer. From 2012-2015 he was lead game designer at Amplify, an educational games company that won awards from the iTunes Store, BAFTA, and Games for Change. Most recently his games swept the 2015 Serious Play Conference, earning 3 out of 4 gold medals awarded that year. He’s also the author of six novels, and the New Yorker called his writing “eerie and imaginative.” He keeps a secret diary at

Alexander Bevier is a writer, game designer and scholar. He works in narrative design and is an IGDA Committee member for the Game Writing SIG. He is currently an MFA at NYU Game Center working on his thesis about 1970s game designers.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How to be Successful at Game Jams

In this video, game prototyping specialist Bernard François explains the steps for a successful game jam experience: preparation, concept choice, production planning, and execution.
Making games in 48 hours is hard. But what can you do to increase your chances of success? How can your prepare yourself for a game programming competition, such as Global Game Jam?  What are some of the strategies you could employ to turn the odds in your favor?

This video tells you all about it.

Bernard François is a game prototyping specialist and founder of PreviewLabs - the only company in the world entirely dedicated to rapid prototyping for projects using game dev technology.