Colin's Sandbox

#gamifi-ED + #etlead Minecraft Group Project / Process

by on Mar.28, 2014, under #etlead

It’s really hard to describe the boot strapping of this game design process, other than to fire off words like: confusing, cohesive, scattered, fun, feeling lost.  Starting off this project a few weeks ago there was some confusion as to what it was we were actually trying to produce and what were the target goals we were going to be assessed by, etc.  One thing was pretty clear – it was going to be a game involving “The Hunger Games” in some fashion, creating the environment of Panem or pre-Panem, and focusing on guiding students on how to avoid Panem.  The group was to be focused on creating the environment using a certain version of Minecraft, the popular indie sandbox game called MinecraftEdu.

Getting the Group Going

We started with a few sessions where varying groups of us have been in the world to explore the features, get a feel for what we can control in the game, see what is difficult / easy.  To do this several of us created structures in the game to represent symbols appearing in the series of books such as the Bakery, the Meadow, the Hob, etc., and this served as an excellent learning tool for many in the group.  Some of the participants were held back due to technical hurdles (still being resolved) but I think everyone has a pretty good idea what’s involved, a general feel for how the game works.  I gained a lot of XP guiding the teachers through the environment and figuring out what motivated all the different styles of learner.  My favorite to date was setting up a quest for Tiffany to get through in order to get a saddle for the horse she tamed.

All of us have our own favorite communication tool; we’ve been trying to make meetings work through Google Hangouts, and communicating primarily through Twitter and the comment facility with Google Docs with the occasional email or IM this way or that way.  While in game we’d use the chat feature, oftentimes Google Hangouts would make Minecraft performance laggy.

One pressure is of course the schedule.  This time of the year is pretty busy; many teachers had crammed schedules ahead of spring break and the week just after.  Making sure we have a project that is manageable and not left half finished by the time school is out is important.

The Game Itself

The original idea is to demonstrate civics in the world of Panem through a game and then somehow tie this in with current and past cultures and institutions.  Thomas brought up the idea of exploring something like Hammurabi’s Code of Laws within the game and the more we have dove into the game and talked about it, the more we are sure that we could emulate the environment of Panem and create the same pressure to skirt the unjust laws at the risk of drawing the attention of the Peacekeepers.  There’s a lot of room in this process to explore concepts of civics; exploring institutions, creating a simple system of economy (buying / selling goods, taxes, penalties, incentives).  There’s lots of discussion about individual mechanics such differentiating a character’s items and attributes and group, and we’re on the right path there.  The hard part which remains is: what defines winning?  Or do you just run it a certain time period, examine what happens, and reflect upon it afterwards?  Does the game just get played over a couple short sessions, or does it keep going in little snippets over the semester?  The big questions you might say 🙂

Teachers and Their Students See the Game Differently

Teachers and students play the game differently.  We’ve heard about Bartle’s gamer types before, but I think in a mixed, somewhat semi-formal environment adults tend to not display their “killer” personality.  Students have no fear in this department, feeling quite free to blow up buildings and mix it up.  I intentionally left the world open and free (sans mods such as MyTown or WorldGuard), and Vicki has had a discussion with students about what the expectations in the game world itself should be, respecting everyone’s creations.  Great stuff!

The Next Few Weeks

I’m looking forward to coming up with something really fun with the group that students (and teachers) would really want work with.  As we work more and more with the students I think the real civics lesson will happen as a consequence; having to actively construct the world of Panem and consider the larger issues of disparity, dysfunctional institutions of government, could be a great opportunity to critically examine past and present cultures as examples.

In the next week we need to nail down a snapshot outlining the game mechanics, portions of the narrative, such as how a game starts and finishes.  Perhaps a return back to the original Educurious unit is warranted here.


1 Comment for this entry

  • Thomas Mellen

    Colin,

    Thanks for the post. I can relate to the first paragraph when you mention confusion and feeling lost. This process has made me have a lot more respect for game makers. I have also been wondering what winning means in our game or if there is winning.

    I’m looking forward to our meeting tomorrow, and I hope we can hash out a lot of the details.

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