Games and Learning

One of the group projects I’m working on this semester is a standards based one-stop-shop application/platform that addresses the STEAM gap in the K-12 education space. We’re hoping to do this by creating learning games that build student skills across different content areas and reach a wide audience. There’s four people in my group. None of us has any game building experience. So, we have some challenges in that regard.

Part of our work has been identifying relevant research and our target audience. Another part of our work is looking at games. What makes them successful? What makes them replayable? How can you take elements of great game design and combine it with educational learning theories and learning analytics to track standards mastery?

So, we have some ideas and our courses don’t necessarily require a finished, working product – prototypes and mockups are acceptable. But, being the driven overachievers that we are, we would really like to at least have one aspect of our project be an actual working game. So, two of us are delving into CS50 and trying to learn enough coding/programming to work in Unity to build a learning game.

We have spent some time looking at different games (both academic and non-academic) and trying to come up with components of a successful game. There are plenty of games out there – but what makes students want to play certain games over and over again? What gives a game appeal?

Admittedly, I haven’t played many games, at least not since I was a kid. I grew up on Super Nintendo and PS2 games, gameboy games, and some roleplaying games. Every now and then I’ll play some Mario Kart, but that’s about it. The older I’ve gotten, the harder it’s been to find that time to play. So, I was really looking forward to exploring some games in the context of research!

One of the games I recently played is Cosmochoria. My friend had been telling me about how she was working on some artwork for this game, but it wasn’t until the game was released via Steam Early Access that I learned more about it.

Side note: my friend is super awesome and also has her own blog about how new tech influences creativity and story telling. She hasn’t updated in a while – probably due to working on Cosmochoria – but you should still check it out. She also wrote about her process and success through failure. Other cool fun facts are that our birthdays are a week apart, we originally “met” via Neopets and a roleplaying site called Wizard Mansion, became snail mail pen pals in addition to online pen pals, and eventually met in person! She came to California a couple of times and I went to Canada. She’s going to be one of my bridesmaids in my wedding next year. Also, she designed the awesome unicorn decal for my car. (This totally calls for a more detailed post on how the internet can facilitate awesome friendships.)


But okay – back to Cosmochoria.

You’re this tiny, naked astronaut wandering around a galaxy trying to revive dying planets while avoiding monsters and aliens.

The game has an amazing soundtrack and original artwork. It’s really cute and reminds me of arcade games and cartoons combined. One of the features that I thought is really neat is that when you die and start over, the galaxy looks different each time.

One thing that I was initially annoyed by was that you can’t upgrade or access the “shop” while you’re in game. You have to wait until you die. The more I thought about it, though, I realized it’s actually a cool concept. It gives the game a replayability factor. Each time you’re playing, you’re striving to get through the game longer so that you can accumulate more points. But if you die, that’s okay, because you can unlock new things that will make your next game playing experience even better. I wonder if something like this would work in our project.

The other things I really liked was that it’s based on exploration. You don’t really know much about the story or where the planets are (at least I didn’t see a map), so it really engages you in playing to find out more. I also like that it’s fairly easy to pick up the game play, but it gets progressively challenging the better you become. These are concepts that my project group would really like to develop in our own games, and I’m wondering how we can take this concept and combine it with adaptive learning.

Finally, the one thing I find super inspiring is that this is the creator Nate Schmold’s FIRST game and it was backed by Kickstarter and greenlit by the Steam community. As an aspiring ed tech game designer, that’s incredibly awesome to me – that someone who has a dream to create a game can do it, even if they’ve never made a game before.

I think that’s one of the amazing things about Kickstarter and online communities – it really opens it up to anyone to share their vision with the world and get some of that financial backing that most non-corporate individuals don’t have to develop their ideas. I also think it’s so neat that companies like Unity and Unreal make their game engines relatively open. Unreal recently announced that they are giving students direct access for free, and they already have it available for free for colleges and universities. 

Needless to say, I’m starting to feel so much better about my group’s high ambitions.


One thought on “Games and Learning

  1. Hi Merisenda,
    Great post! I always really enjoyed using games when I was teaching. Any teacher who has ever seen how engaged students can be while gaming, knows that games can really changing the learning environment of a classroom. I can’t wait to see what your group creates!


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