Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kids and knowledge

So far this semester, I have learned that designing games is a lot more difficult than one might initially suspect. It doesn't help, either, that we are all 20-somethings designing a learning game for kids between 8-12. It got me to thinking: what's different between designing a game for adults versus one for kids, or games that are purely entertainment-oriented versus ones with clear learning objectives? Is there any difference at all? 

So far, here's where my thoughts have lead me: 
Kids think differently than adults...but not completely. I've been looking into some things about learning and development stages of children, and while it's difficult to be exact, we can take into consideration a few generalities. The most notable out of all of these is that, until about 12 years and onward, abstract reasoning is often difficult. In other words, a ten-year-old may be able to classify, observe, experiment, order, and problem-solve, but there's a good chance they may not yet be able to strongly empathize, analyze, forecast, or consider possibilities or solutions in an abstract situation. 
That shouldn't affect game design too greatly...unless, of course, you're trying to design a game that evokes empathy and self-analyzation. In that case, it might not be the best choice for the 12-and-under crowd. 

Even more important than that is the question, "What makes a game fun?" Once we have a sense of the stages of development, what do we do with it? Koster hypothesizes a game is fun when we learn from it and ceases to be fun when we have mastered the skills that make up the game mechanic. Going off of that, we have a very basic problem:
How do you incorporate learning into a game when a game is already about learning?
A game is fun when you can learn directly from the gameplay. It's about learning skills, experimenting, assimilating knowledge through trial and error. It's important to note that learning a skill is a different from learning a fact.
One of the problems with many educational game is that they place knowledge on top of the gameplay--instead of being part of the game, it's tacked on as a sort of afterthought. The wonderful thing about games is that you can experiment in order to learn; you don't need to be lectured.
With this in mind, simply theming a game to a particular topic is not enough to create a learning experience through the game. If you want to have a teaching game about chemistry, for instance, you can't just have a game with a chemistry element. If you want someone to learn from it, it's best to include what you want to learn in the game (e.g. if you want to teach them about changing molecular structure, give them a few molecules and let them manipulate it themselves and see the results of their decision). The knowledge should be something that's discovered through the player's choices or, if you absolutely have to explain a concept, make sure they have to use that knowledge in order to intelligently advance or strategize.

Hopefully this will add some insights, or at least keep these thoughts in light while we're prototyping. These thoughts were collected over the course of a few days, so sorry if they're a bit disjointed, and if anyone has anything to add, it'd benefit! 

1 comment:

  1. Great post, I agree: games billed as "educational" generally toss the learning elements on top of the icing, instead of mixing it into the batter, to the detriment of the final product.

    If we can manage to create a game that has learning elements mixed throughout the gameplay, we will have likely succeeded in our goals.