The “Pedagogical Trifecta” of Game Making

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All semester, I have been studying how game playing fosters learning. I never considered making the leap to game making as an exceptional learning opportunity, until I noticed a retweet in my Games and Learning course’s #ILT5320 Twitter feed. The article Why Making Your Own Video Games Leads to Quality Learning by Jordan Shapiro completely shifted my games and learning paradigm. Why didn’t I make that connection sooner? The discourse of gamers becoming game makers is an obvious progression.

  • gamers (be)come) Gamers
  • Gamers (be)come game makers
  • game makers (be)come Game Makers

Shapiro explained that applications like Gamestar Mechanic, Unity, GameMaker, and Scratch have been “video game changers” that removed the necessity to master coding in order to create a game. Now, children who have been playing video games all their life are better able to analyze and interpret what the game design, mechanics, and aesthetic means to their experience. They are reflecting upon their game playing observations, which makes sense for any sort of enthusiast. 

In creating a game, there is an intentional shift from simply interacting with a game to interpreting and analyzing how to create a game. This requires the application of STEM skills in order to envision how the game will play for others. For this reason, the National STEM Video Game Challenge was founded and created to motivate youth to transform their game playing skills into game making skills. Last year, almost 4000 middle and high schoolers competed in the 2014-2015 National STEM Video Game Challenge for cash and software prizes. This year’s competition is underway and students have until August 15th to submit an entry.

Not only is game making valuable for developing STEM skills, Shapiro describes game making as the “pedagogical trifecta” of quality learning. (For us elearning geeks, it doesn’t get much better than pedagogical trifecta, unless of course, it’s a pedagogical superfecta.)  Game creation combines content, affective/experiential, and metacognitive learning. A great example would be my assignment to play and reflect upon the board game Pandemic in my Games and Learning course:

  • Content – Studying how games foster learning
  • Affective/Experiential – Playing the game, Pandemic
  • Metacognitive – Reflecting upon the cooperative mechanics of Pandemic

Shapiro explained that making a game forces intentional thought and design decisions. If I were to take all that I’ve learned from the above Pandemic example and create a game, my learning would compound with interest. On a side note, I am certain, given my experience and study, if I were to create a game, it would be cooperative. However, deciding that my game would be cooperative is only one decision and there are millions more to make. For example:

  • Do I have characters in my game?
  • What will they look like?
  • Do I even need characters?
  • What’s my storyline?
  • What is the goal of my game?
  • How to I make a cooperative goal that’s appealing to others?..and the list goes on.

The evolution of game playing into game making is a huge deal. It means that students are able to metacognitively connect the dots and step outside the role of player into the role of creator. With the 2015-2016 National STEM Video Game Challenge underway, perhaps participation will reach new heights of more than 4000 game makers this year. (I know it’s cheesy, but I have to say it.) To all of this year’s National STEM Video Game Challenge participants, “You’re all winners!”

My Board Game Antidote to Overt Competition: Pandemic


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Due to poor planning on my part, I purchased Pandemic yesterday and asked my boyfriend and guinea pig, Ben, to play the brand new board game at 9pm last night. I cannot confirm or deny that our rushed game play was an effort to complete my play journal assignment today.

Pandemic is a cooperative, strategy game that has a large learning curve. The goal is to work as a team to travel the globe eradicating deadly viruses by continent. Each player has special talents that the team needs to use wisely. For example, a quarantine specialist can stop outbreaks by their mere presence, while a scientist can discover a cure faster than other players. Given the cooperative nature of the game all players are racing against the clock or deck of cards to rid the world of the outbreaks before they conglomerate into a pandemic. Players are all in it together.

As we were struggling through the game last night, Ben said, “Why didn’t you pick an easy game like Parcheesi?” I explained that my choice was based upon our past, not-so-fun experience with Chess. I thought Pandemic might be a good solution to our overly competitive natures, while appeasing our love of strategy.

Although my timely execution of the game was not on point, my long-term planning was. Per Pandemic’s online reviews, I could see it as was a well-designed game that aligned with Gee’s (2004) games and learning principles to “create motivation for extending engagement and preparing for future learning,” (p. 67). Additionally, the clerk at the Wizard’s Chest where I bought the game said the game “left him wanting to play more.” I decided Pandemic was a game Ben and I could grow into.

In a quest to “up my game” I not only purchased the game, but I also aspired to pick a game worthy of my experience with the Games and Learning course at CU Denver. I have seen my peers and classmates really savoring their gaming experience and I wanted to adopt this discourse for myself. My observed benefits of gaming includes the following:

  • Mental Stimulation
  • Developing Playfulness
  • Social Interactivity
  • Affordable Entertainment
  • Community Building

In regards to playful learning, Pandemic as a learning tool in the schools reminds me of the game/study To Pave or Not to Pave as published in the book Mobile Media Learning: Amazing Uses of Mobile Devices for Learning. This place-based design for civic participation was a study executed by James Mathews and Jeremiah Holden. It required students to create a learning experience around a civic issue of whether or not to pave a public path (Dikkers et. al, 2012). Playing Pandemic and the creation of To Pave or Not to Pave directed participants to achieve a common goal. In Pandemic the goal was to prevent a worldwide epidemic, while To Pave or Not to Pave’s goal was to engage participants civically. In both games, working together forces participants to see multiple perspectives and ways to skin a cat. In fact, playing Pandemic allowed me to glimpse into Ben’s brain and see his strategic thinking. His preferred method was to travel and diffuse the problem in each hot city together, while I suggested we divide and conquer. I was pleasantly surprised that one, I was able to let him take the lead, and two, when we stuck together, we were more effective.

This was my first experience with a board game focused on collaboration over obliteration. A perfect example of obliteration was our course’s first group game, Small World. The goal was to completely destroy a culture of people/creatures in order to win their land and resources. I know Small World is just a game, but is it really? When I think about the reality of ruined cultures and such things as the resource curse, I have a hard time playing out an age-old struggle of the haves and the have nots. (Yes, I should probably calm down.) In playing Pandemic, it was refreshing to step outside of obliteration and my competitive self. I enjoyed the gaming perspective of cooperating with my partner in a playful, save the planet sort of setting. Thanks to Pandemic,  I now have found an unexpected antidote for the overt competition that many other games promote.


Dikkers, S., Martin, J., & Coulter, B. (2012). Mobile media leanring: Amazing uses of mobile devices for learning.

Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York: Routledge.

Ask for Help or Stay Stuck?

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Photo Credit: Code Combat

The last time I wrote about my affinity space I spoke from a place of fear of group participation, while wanting to complete as many levels as possible. Isn’t that exactly what affinity spaces are created for? To accelerate one’s understanding and identification of a chosen discourse? As fate would have it, I have reached a level where I cannot pass without asking for help. I tried for three days to solve the code problem on my own with no luck.

I posted my code and question to the board. With no response after a full day, I’m starting to wonder a few things. Did I categorize my question properly in order to be seen by the right people as quickly as possible? What if that level has a bug? Who am I to tell Code Combat there must be a bug in one of their levels?

In all truth, I could post my question to every category and, although that is probably poor form, it shows that I really want to learn. I truly am sick of this level and want to keep moving. However, I suspect my case is exactly the point the discourse hopes players will land. A place of needing help and the motivation to solve the problem outweighs the desire to stay below the radar.

I’m stuck in the Backwood Forrest  on an If/Else loop that requires me to kill the never-ending supply of munchkins. Here’s my code:

loop {
var enemy = this.findNearestEnemy();
if (this.isReady(“cleave”));

Whether my code isn’t correct or there truly in a bug in the level, I’m grateful for this point of pressure. It is forcing me to engage and this extra little push is exactly what I needed.

Assess(ment) as Play?

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

With playful learning becoming more common, it makes sense that student assessments might also follow suit. Playful possibilities for assessment: Fluffy Ducks and the Queen’s Gambit by my CU Denver professor Remi Holden emphasizes that static rubrics are not effective measures of dynamic, playful learning. His argument speaks of his experience revamping the Educational Technology Master of Arts program at the University of Michigan-Flint. 


Lofty Goals of Educational Technology

This is not your ordinary program in educational technology. The goals of the program included the following (Holden, 2013):

  • Transforming how teaching and learning intersect with technology

  • Helping “pro-social tech-tinkerers” develop media that just might change the world

  • Sustaining communities of educators committed to immersive learning experiences


Playful Teaching & Learning

Remi and his process-oriented colleagues actively worked to experiment with their designs, embrace failure, and commit to reflection. Their focus was to engage students playfully over eliciting the “right” answers. In their process of playful pedagogy, the following principles were applied to courses (Holden, 2013):

  1. Play requires the acceptance of constraints

  2. Students should be playing with things (applications, codes, etc)

  3. Play assumes failure

  4. Playful teaching and learning fosters community


Products of Playful Learning

Playful learning can generate a generous variety of outcomes that challenge standards and think outside the box. Holden’s experience with the Global Program at Michigan University produced the following outcomes (2013):

  • An online economic justice simulation for high school students

  • Website & curricular resources about human rights in China

  • Community gardening in Michigan

  • Environmental conservation in Mexico

  • Global citizenship in the Congo

  • Social studies through digital and analog tools

Of course these projects have been dramatically simplified, but it is important to understand the grand scope of what can be produced from playful teaching and learning. There is no way to group these projects into categories, let alone assess them with a single rubric. It appears that self-directed learning and educational pull shaped the projects.


Assess(ment): Verb Over Noun

Playful learning is active and should be measured as such. Using a standardized rubric in any of the above examples seems a bit trite and could potentially squash their brilliance. What rubric standards could begin to capture a project’s essence?

  • Engaged learning?

  • International citizenship?

  • Courage within the possibility of failure?

  • Forward thinking?

Actively assessing a project insinuates it is alive and allows for discussion of the idea’s greatness. Additionally, assessing the product of playful learning requires an engaged educator. An educator who cannot simply check a box and never know his/her student’s abilities. By playfully challenging students to give their best effort, the same can be asked of teachers in assessing such learning.

Playful assessment completes the playful teaching and learning cycle..




Holden, J. (2013). Playful possibilities for assessment: Fluffy Ducks and the Queen’s Gambit. Retrieved from


Games Taken Seriously = Serious Players Learning

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Alhambra Palace
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Alhambra Palace

Building Upon Past Critiques

In my last scholarly critique of Taking Serious Games Seriously in EducationI leaned that such a thing a research-based learning progressions existed. My professor, Remi Holden, asked if the learning progression was spelled out in detail. It was not. He then suggested that I look into other serious game research and read an article that his mentor, Jeff Kupperman, coauthored.

It Matters Because It’s a Game: Serious Games and Serious Players was a collaboration of Jeff Kupperman, Michael Fahy, Fred Goodman, Susanna Hapgood, Jeff Stanzler, and Gary Weisserman. This serious research pulled from such academic institutions as University of Michigan-Flint, University of Michigan Interactive Communications and Simulations, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and University of Toledo. The researchers concluded that serious games can miss the mark by focusing on end results rather than creating an opportunity for learners to completely immerse themselves in play that is taken seriously.

The Stage

Players Out Of Time (POOT) is a prime example of developing serious players and for this reason was used as the game of study for Kupperman and team. POOT is an online simulation of a diplomatic trial set in Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.

This hallowed space sets the stage for students to play the roles of a wide variety of historic characters such as Martin Luther King, Jr, Edgar Allen Poe, King Henry VIII, or Madame Curie. Students asynchronously communicate with other characters through guided discussions that occur in the “Great Hall” or “Courtroom”. They may also write a speech in the “Foyer”, offer  “presentations of evidence,” or blog individually. Most importantly, students are challenged to fully embody their character’s mindset and tone voice in all their interactions.

Photo Credit: Place Out of Time
Photo Credit: Place Out of Time

The Power of Anonymity

With students getting to play a character, they are free to say things that might otherwise be critically judged if said outside of character. For example, when a discussion question asked if violence is necessary, Ptolemy I Sofer responded,


Of course violence is necessary! What should I do? Sit there like a duck and fall through the hierarchy like a knife through papyrus? No! I claimed king ship like a alpha wolf claims his title: he has to fight for it, and as a reward, he is feared, respected, noticed for being strong, for having the strength to be a leader, the leader of the pack. And as a reward he is first in line for food, first in line for hunting. So I have to be like a wolf: I have to fight for the right to be king,” (Kupperman et. al, 2011, p. 25).


The student playing Ptolemy was able to take huge risks in acting out his character’s historical stance. He took his role seriously and this is where the real learning took place.


Emerging Leadership

Heated debates provoked impassioned students to go above and beyond the assignment. The host and mentors introduced benign intrusions of authority. In one instance, the character, Edgar Allan Poe worked to form a watchdog committee by the name of Alhambra Security Committee (ASC) in order to uphold order in the trial. Though Edgar’s character did not have the top dog mentality of Ptolemy, the student playing Edgar realized his ability to lead through organizing and fighting for justice in the serious game.



In the majority of today’s schools, many students do what is asked of their teachers in order to reach the end goal and earn their grades. Their work is not impacting anyone outside the classroom. Kupperman and team studied how to shift this dynamic to a position where students voluntarily attempt overcoming obstacles, and in fact, impact change beyond their classroom.  POOT harnesses this learning magic: students become serious players and embody the role of serious learner.




Kupperman, J., Fahy, M., Goodman, F., Hapgood, S., Stanzler, J., & Weisserman, G. (2010). It Matters Because It’s a Game: Serious Games and Serious Players. International Journal of Learning and Media, 2(4), 21-30. Retrieved March 15, 2016, from




What Kind of Jedi are You?

Photo Credit: Potentium Album in Imgur
Photo Credit: Potentium Album in Imgur


Rather than enjoying dinner and a movie out this past weekend, I coerced my boyfriend, Ben, to dinner and a board game at home. Our low key night entailed a quick walk down to Ben’s sister’s house to select a game. One thing was certain, with Isabella being an avid Star Wars fan, the game would have an epic theme. We narrowed it down to either Star Wars Battleship or Star Wars Life. The Game of Life: A Jedi’s Path won.


Although the game mechanics are very similar to the original Life version, I found the storyline to be much more imaginative and thought provoking. Players do not strive for marriage, children, or the accrual of wealth, but to develop the force within themselves. Will the young Padawan (Jedi in-training) choose to walk on the light or the dark side? Whether one becomes a Jedi Knight or Sith Lord the goal is to be the last man standing.


Rob Daviau and Reuben Klamer, the game designers, built many options and opportunities for choice into the game. Choice as a learning principle is best when offered from the start, (Gee 2004). I enjoyed getting to choose the following options throughout the game:

  • Padawan Pawn

  • Clan

  • Life Skills: Intuition, Fighting, Energy, & Logic

  • Dark Path Shortcuts vs Consistent Light Path


I chose to be Choobakka of the Kaadu Clan and Ben was Luke of the Bantha Clan. Both Ben and I took short cuts on the dark side because the rewards were enticing. However, I took too many short cuts leading to my demise as a Sith Lord. Ben went on to become Luke the Jedi Knight who defeated me. Even though I know it was only a game, I felt bad that I chose the dark side. The games ability to stir such a deep moral question surprised me.


“Is the moral dilemma to choose light over dark an innate quest?”


Star Wars is the classic coming-of-age story. The protagonist faces a series of challenges, which force psychological and moral growth between youth to adulthood. This story resonates with all of humanity because we all have to make choices and decide what type of people we want to be(come). The Game of Life: The Jedi Path provoked far more thought about my life choices than I could have fathomed.  


“Am I making choices that lead me toward the light?”


Players get to decide which life skills to gather throughout the game. The rule book briefly touches on different types of Jedis, but isn’t prescriptive. I would like to have seen more reasoning as to why I might choose one skill over another. For example I leaned more towards the skill of intuition, while Ben tended to chose logic. However, at the end of the game it didn’t matter what kind of skills we had, it only mattered how many total skills we gathered. I think it would be more meaningful to chose skills in order to become a specific type of Jedi over simply accumulating skills.

Photo Credit: Dorkly
Photo Credit: Dorkly


I did not mean to think so deeply about a board game, but I must say the game design got me thinking. In one hour, Life: A Jedi Path made the choice between light and dark very clear. It was a good reminder that our character in life is a summation of all our choices: large and small.



Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York: Routledge.