Game making for non-linear storytelling
Judy Robertson and Cathrin Howells are both working on the Learning and Teaching Scotland games design project, and are presenting today on how game making can lead to successful learners.
Using Neverwinter Nights, a cheap game which can be bought off the shelf, Judy and Cathrin looked into how their research on how the game could improve on literacy could be applied to a real life classroom in deepest, darkest Dundee. Because Neverwinter Nights is not just a game, but, like so many of the games we play today, it comes with a game maker attached.
Making a game
We're now making a game, choosing our landscape from a huge list (a forest), giving it a name (Murrayfield Forest), choosing the size of the forest (small - too big, and kids tend to get lost in their own game!). Now, we're taking our first aerial views of the forest, spinning around so we are standing on the forest floor. We've added a stream through the forest and a small lodge.
Choosing a character from amongst the dragons, shapeshifters, wizards and gouls is exciting, as we can view our 3D, animated creations before plonking them into our world, checking, of course, to see whether we are choosing an evil, friendly or commoner dragon. We can now make them say certain things in response to what the player asks them, as many variables as we, the game creators, want to add. Each of these then has its own consequences. Before we know it, we've started writing tangent after tangent in our non-linear story.
In this demo we are making it up as we go along, but done in a planned way, through discussion between learners, the possibilities for creating some truly amazing plots, built one on top of the other, are huge.
What the kids said
The thing the kids liked the most was the fact that this was a hard activity, much in the same way as the medical students with numeracy problems enjoyed the significant challenge of Dr Kawashima's Brain Training in use at Bournemouth University and my borrowed students at St Thomas of Aquin's enjoyed the difficulty of podcasting. Also, the students wanted to do these difficult tasks independently, they wanted the teacher to leave them to get on with it (their learning):
He...insisted I show him what he was doing wrong rather than doing it for him.
Really interesting was the role of the learning environment on how children worked (or didn't work) collaboratively. On one class it quickly became the natural norm for kids to share their tricks and tips for making better games, better stories, while in the classroom next door it was incredibly difficult for the staff to foster this kind of sharing. There it was seen more as 'stealing', so this has to be borne in mind when developing similar projects in your local authority or school.
Gains of game writing over paper writing
Kids were found to be editing and improving writing more and better through the game than they normally would on paper for standard 'writing' tasks:
"Well, I wrote a story and now I'm transforming it and making it better."
"It's a better way of learning like, better sort of language work, cos it's more fun and it helps you with computing as well... it helps you with your conversation... you think about it a lot more to make your game better."
To make it work...
Judy believes that if you don't take a constructivist approach to learning and teaching already, i.e. you take an instructivist approach, then you're not going to find it easy to make a success of game making (or anything else in the Curriculum for Excellence, for that matter).
On a hardware basis you do need PCs with adequate graphics cards and memory - it's a practicality, and one that can be sorted out relatively easy, but it needs done before you start.
Game making is a hugely complex activity without being complicated, something which is a huge asset for learning and teaching.