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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!”

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