Video Game Design: Teaching Reflections Part 1

As a lifelong gamer (both tabletop and video), I view games as more than just diversions or time-wasters.  I view them as learning tools.  Tools than can teach skills like communication, collaboration, logic, patience, problem solving, critical thinking, reading, math, and many more.  But many games have a bad reputation as being violent, repetitive, or simply glorified babysitters.  Part of the reason is the word itself.  According to game designer Jane McGonigal, the word “game” is used negatively in our everyday language: “Don’t play games with me!”, “He is gaming the system.”,”What do you think this is: a game?”  Popular culture and the media have only worsened the stereotype.  News stories abound blaming video games when gunmen shoot innocents.  But those who play games know the value of what they are playing, even if they can’t explain it others.

With these thoughts in mind, I designed and taught a video game design course to middle school students this school year.  I want to share my experience.

At first, I thought I was in heaven:  I got to teach one of my passions to a new generation.  Of course, I had a class of all boys, 15 of them.  I had visions of creating Xbox Kinect games and iPhone apps.  It was going to be fantastic.

But what I didn’t realize at the time was something that became painfully obvious as the weeks went on:  playing games is more fun that creating them.  And since this was an elective with only a pass/fail grade, most of the boys wanted to play instead of work.  So began a recurring battle:  how to inspire my students to create the games they want to play.

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