This blog post will allow me to reflect on playing four different types of games and ultimately compare and contrast them to one another. By experiencing and reflecting on each type, hopefully, I will generate ideas about how to incorporate these different types of games into my own classroom.
Game Type #1: Card games, games of chance, or traditional board games
The first type of game I explored was card games, games of chance, or traditional board games because it is what I am personally most comfortable with. I love playing games with my family and grew up enamored with the joy, excitement, and competition of family game night. I spent time playing the online version of two of my childhood favorites: Yahtzee and Chinese Checkers. Both proved to be very fun and the free version for each provided user-friendly interfaces. As I was already familiar with the games, I did not even need to read instructions to figure out how to play.
I could see both Yahtzee and Chinese Checkers being an effective complements to my math rotation as they effectively employ the type of problem solving skills that I want my students to build. Yahtzee offers traditional math tie ins from simple addition, strategy and problem solving. I can also see many more complex math integration options through some simple modifications to the game like using multiplication instead of addition or allowing students to practice place value through the numbers on the dice. My one problem with the Yahtzee online version is that it calculates the roll total for students, so while they have to do mental math to aid in their game strategy, the computer does the end addition for them. I would want to either find or create a version of the game that allows students to do all of the math involved. The Chinese Checkers game forces students to think logically, create strategies, and analyze patterns. It also offers 2-6 player options to differentiate among student levels as the game becomes more complex with additional players.
Ultimately, while I enjoyed both of these games, I think for these types, I would rather have my students playing the traditional board games or spend some time developing or modifying the game to better meet my students needs. I currently have traditional card and board games for my students to play because I think that playing together teaches important life skills that I aim to cultivate within my fourth graders. Furthermore, as I mentioned with my critique of the Yahtzee game, I would want to bulk up the math skills utilized in the game if I were to use it in a math rotation, which, with my current skill set, would be easier to modify from the traditional game.
Part One: Puzzle Games (Tetris & Construction Fall)
Tetris was the first (and only) game available on my first cell phone. I spent too much time flipping the shapes and trying to race the clock to stack the different shaped pieces. For this quest, I was only too thrilled to revisit my old favorite. This type of game is great for spacial awareness and quick problem solving. If students can see and predict how the pieces will fit together, they have a gateway to understanding geometry better. Tetris can easily be connected or extended to teach about transformational geometry by introducing the vocabulary (translation, rotation, etc.) and having students use it when playing the game.
After my jaunt down memory lane with Tetris, I also played Construction Fall, which was a really neat game that introduced some basic physics concepts because you had to launch objects into a different object (like a ball into a tower of matches) to see if you could make the structure fall. To play this game, you need to be able to predict what is going to happen before you launch – through understanding and applying physics knowledge. Then, you are able to test your hypotheses by actually launching the object. This type of game seems perfect for classrooms! Think of any lesson about gravity, force, momentum, speed, energy – and get kids to see it happen on screen. I might take this one to my fourth graders next week!
Part Two: Abstract Games (Line Rider)
I remember this game! Abstract games are those without another home, or another category that they fit neatly into. One such game is Line Rider. I started by making a simple loop course for my rider and it was fun to create a track and watch him go. As I grew more confident, my tracks became much more complex and sophisticated. However, as soon as I watched the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=79&v=ydBf1GRg96A) I realized how much of a novice I was! I was so impressed with the creativity of this creator!
This type of game fits nicely into fourth grade science standards and interests! We study forces and motion and I had students explore a similar activity through a Phet Skatepark Simulation where they could build a skate ramp that allowed them to see potential and kinetic energy. This might be a nice complement to that study because they could play with the Phet first and then build a line for the bike rider and have to show where the rider would speed up and slow down based on energy and where there is potential and kinetic energy. Allowing students to be creative and just play with a game like this seems like a great way to tie in some science and technology in a fun and engaging way.
Game Type #2: Action Games (“Shoot-em Up” Games)
As a non-violent person, this game type initially intimidated me. I have seen, played, and discussed the role of violent video games in today’s culture both through my peers and through my students. I am of the camp that there is already a lot of violence in our world, so giving young people the opportunity to shoot creatures and people seems unnecessary to me.
That being said, I enjoyed playing the retro, 80s arcade game Space Invaders as well as TeraBlaster. Both provided a simple interface- I used the space bar to shoot and my arrow keys to move, which proved helpful for a video game novice like myself. Both required minimal strategy and provided an entertaining, if not slightly mindless, game play. Both games did require computer-knowledge, coordination, and fine-motor skills, which are appropriate to cultivate at the fourth grade level. These are the types of games that I expect my students to be playing outside of class.
However, the enjoyment I found in the game lends itself to a further discussion of gamification of content. If I can harness the engaging challenge of Space Invaders and apply it to a fourth grade standard, my students will be able to have fun, while also mastering content: a win-win! Perhaps instead of just using the space bar to fire, they have to spell a word correctly first or answer a math fact first and that allows them to fire. In this way, they still use the hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills of a shoot-em game as well as are engaged in the fun of the game, while still learning.
Part One: Platformers (Sonic)
I remember playing Sonic on my SegaDreamcast as a kid, so finding the internet version of this game was a treat! After spending awhile playing Narrative Games, finding my way through this action game was a refreshing leap back into something more familiar. Action games are more what I think of when I think of video games. The object of the game is to take Sonic the Hedgehog through a series of obstacles, collecting rings, avoiding dangerous things, and finishing as fast as possible. I found myself quickly immersed in the game as I raced towards a faster score. I did not read the instructions, but instead just used the arrow keys to get started and then discovered that the space bar could let me jump as I experienced the game.
This type of game relied heavily on the “twitch” aspect of video games because it requires players to use their quick reflexes and decision making skills to progress through the game. This type of game could be modified for classroom use to increase automaticity for skills like math facts or sight words. Furthermore, it could be a reward that just increases hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes.
Part Two: First Person Shooters (Doom)
These are exactly the kind of video games I usually reel away from. The first person view-point usually leaves me running into walls in the game and nauseous in real life. The violent nature of the games usually makes me wish I was doing something else instead. So, I went into playing Doom with a poor attitude, expecting not to like it.
Once I played for awhile, I still was not a huge fan, but the game did require quick reflexes and strategy on my part. The characters were creative, but the graphics were very pixelated and the walls would blur, which caused me to get confused about where I was. The goal of the game is to shoot the monsters dodging fireballs as you are traversing through Hell. I did not last very long each time I played (remember the running into walls phenomenon?), but I did enjoy the game slightly more than I anticipated.
After doing some research on first person shooters, I realized many are set during historical battles, or based on specific times in history with a supernatural twist- like zombies. For older students, this might provide interesting background to social studies curriculum, but I would shy away from encouraging my fourth grade students to be playing these games. In the classroom, first person shooters could be used in more kid-friendly and educational ways, for example, an alien “blaster” shooting the correct answer to a math problem or correctly spelled word. In this way, students would have a similar experience to the first person shooter, but a little more G rated and academically grounded.
Part Three: Fighter Game (Street Fighter)
As I was reading the quest notes about this type of game, I was struck by the note that these types of games are “Not button mashers, require complex sequences delivered at specific time.” My style playing any sort of fighting game is definitely to button mash, and if I accidentally stumble upon a fight sequence that looks cool or seems to work, I spend the rest of the game button mashing in a way that tries to recreate that original sequence. Similar to my dislike of first-person shooter games, I don’t love the violent nature of the fighter games either.
To experience this game, I tried playing Street Fighter. Once I started playing, I actually thought I was my opponent, so that was confusing… Once I got back on track, it took me a little bit to realize which keyboard controls led me to punch, kick, jump, and move. I lost every round I played. But, I gained speed and definitely improved the longer I was Ryu!
The educational applications for this type of game are a little harder for me to see because I don’t necessarily want to model two people fighting against each other. It could perhaps be a model to explore other conflicts to allow students to think about what types of advantages each side has (the keyboard combinations). However, I don’t necessarily think that this application would enhance the study of conflict because I think it would distract students from the learning. I think this is something that can be a danger of relying too much on games in the classroom, so the teacher needs to have clear and specific expectations and objectives in place.
Part Four: Driving Games (Shut Up and Drive)
Driving games have always been my favorite type of video games. This perhaps stems from my early days of playing Crazy Taxi with my brother, but continued through Mario Kart and arcade driving games that simulated being in a real car. Despite my love of the game, I have never been too good at them. I frequently find myself driving off the road and over correcting myself over ledges or smashing into other cars.
To experience this type of game, I played Shut Up and Drive! which was a fun game that used the keyboard to keep the car progressing forward on the road. My zippy blue convertible cruised quickly, but I definitely overcorrected to the point where I was off the road (“Press Space to return to the road”) more times than I’d like to admit. I crashed into other cars a few times, but this didn’t affect the other cars or myself other than a red bubble popped up that said “Crashed!” This is a perfect example of the laws of physics and real driving not applying in car video games. I came in 10th place (out of 10), so I think it’s safe to say I am glad that real driving is a little easier for me than driving video games!
As I was playing, I dreamt up a few different applications for these games in the classroom. This type of game could teach map reading skills or allow students to explore a region of study in an engaging way. Students could also analyze the physics behind the game to decide what is realistic and what is not possible and maybe test different physical constraints to see how the car reacts.
Part Five: Rhythm Games
I thought that my favorite type of video games were driving games, but that was because I completely forgot about my actual favorite: dance games. Dance Dance Revolution was my absolute JAM at every arcade and party growing up. I love that I can dance and look like a fool, but still pretend to follow the onscreen directions.
To experience this game, I played Rhythm Fireworks 2 which has the player press arrow keys set to music when the arrow crosses a line. The music matches the key strokes. It starts relatively simple, but then asks you to also change the color. This required you to use your other hand at the same time. In other words, this is where I hit a snag! I struggled even at the novice level to master both hands at the same time. However, I still played for a long time- it was fun!
I love the classroom applications for this type of game. Currently, I use Just Dance videos as Brain Breaks in my classroom. My kids love getting the chance to move during the school day- especially to song and dance game videos they know already. In addition to physical fitness, these games can improve hand-eye coordination or help students understand rhythm and music in a new way. Our music teacher has students experiment with Garage Band, which allows them to experience instruments in ways they could not in the traditional classroom.
Game Type #3: Narrative Games
Part One: Zork
Growing up, I loved choose your own adventure books. I would read and re-read them to try and play out all of the potential scenarios the books contained. The mysteries intrigued me and I loved that I had a role in determining the outcome. I have played Dungeons and Dragons once. It was a blast. I loved creating a persona and playing out an imaginary world with my friends as we created and solved problems together. Though hesitant at first, by the end of the night, I was a fan. However, prior to this experience, I had never before played an online version of a narrative game. To explore this genre, I played Zork 1: The Great Underground Adventure.
Originally, I did not really understand what I was supposed to do. It took me a little bit of exploration to realize that I needed to type my commands in the blue bar at the bottom. And even then, I did not realize I could use action commands instead of just directions. I found this guide helpful as I was exploring initially. For a novice gamer, this helped me understand how my choices could influence the plot of the game. As I became more comfortable with the interface, I made some choices for my character independently and experienced both positive and negative outcomes.
As a visual person, I definitely found it challenging to traverse this landscape in my head and often found myself backtracking and retracing my steps in attempts to advance the plot rather than just move around aimlessly. I think if I were to spend more time with the game, I would want to have a notebook with me to track my movements and take note of how the landscape (gamescape?) developed. I also found that sometimes I got ahead of my character. For example, when I was in the kitchen, there was a bottle of water. I instructed my character to drink water, but was reminded that I needed to be holding the bottle before I could drink. So I grabbed the bottle and tried again and was reminded I needed to open the bottle before I could drink. This type of sequencing is an important skill, and this type of narrative game would allow students to access it in an engaging and new way.
Overall, I enjoyed playing Zork. It was entertaining and definitely harkened back to the choose your own adventure books I enjoyed as a kid. Game play occurred like I was reading a story, which I enjoyed. Because I was in the driver’s seat of the story, I was drawn into the storyline. I was invested in the game because my choices dictated the outcome. Because there was no graphics, the story existed in my mind. A similar joy that I find when reading a book I found as I played this game.
When thinking about educational extensions and applications, I see a few potential applications. First, I could see this being an interesting tie-in for social studies because students could explore different cultures as they play out scenarios relevant to an experience different than their own. Narrative games also provide great reading practice and reading skills support. Not only does the game require students to read and understand what they read, but it encourages them to think about characters and plot development as well because they need to make choices that make sense and drive the story. I could even see my kids creating some kind of choose your own adventure narrative game to showcase their understanding of a class novel as they planned for different endings but honored the characters and setting the author created.
Part Two: Graphic Adventure (Peasant’s Quest)
Peasant’s Quest is the next level of narrative game because it is a graphic adventure. Therefore, it plays on the normal ‘rules’ of a narrative game with a storyline developed as the game develops, but adds simple 2-D graphics to accompany the storyline.
When I first started playing the game, I found it similarly challenging to Zork in that I did not really know what I was supposed to do. I used this walkthrough to help give me some direction for my character. With the help of the walkthrough, I was able to progress through the game and STINK, DRESS, and get ON FIRE like a peasant. I enjoyed the choose your own adventure aspect and the simple graphics of the game. It reminded me of reading a graphic novel. The graphics were better than that of Zork (as Zork had none) but were still simple and pixelated.
My students love graphic novels, so they might enjoy puzzling through the story, however, I think I would need them to play in groups (perhaps as a team-building activity) or provide lots of whole class support. Overall, I am not convinced that this would enhance my fourth grade classroom. I think that my students would benefit from more structure on what to do as well as having a stronger academic tie-in, perhaps designing a graphic adventure based on a story they have read or our social studies curriculum.
Part Three: The Legend of Zelda
Zelda harkens back to my childhood as I remember attempting to play it with my older brother and his friends, and not finding much success back then (either!). The Legend of Zelda is an action adventure game that utilizes a storyline like other narrative game types, but the character moves with keyboard manipulation rather than my typing in basic commands.
The graphics were more advanced than Peasant’s Quest, but I similarly struggled knowing what I was supposed to do. Zelda has a clear plot line- you are trying to save Zelda from the evil wizard, but other than just having a gaming sense (or using a walkthrough cheat- as I ended up doing), I am not sure how you figure out what you are supposed to do. The walkthrough did help me gain a little more confidence moving through the game and understanding what to do.
The game has music that adds to the experience and seems to provide a leveled experience. I, as a very novice gamer, was able to manipulate my character, gather tools, and move through the game. However, much more sophisticated and complex maneuvers and game play was available for those gamers who could.
While engaging and fun, this narrative game does not seem like something I could very easily incorporate into my classroom. I certainly could use it as a problem solving or team-building activity and allow students to work together to save the princess. However, adding in academic learning opportunities, like asking students to solve math problems or spell words correctly, would detract from the game and feel disingenuous. With the other two narrative games, I saw potential application or extension with manipulating the game for social studies or novel studies, but the story line of Zelda is well-established and the game is much more advanced, so the manipulation would be beyond my abilities.
Part 4: Alternative Reality Game (The 39 Clues)
Prior to this quest, I had never played a Massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) nor an ARG (Alternative Reality Game). Basically, they are both role-playing games set in a fantasy world or the real world. ARG’s are controlled by the participants involved rather than artificial intelligence, which allows for many educational applications because the teacher could facilitate the game in the role of the game designer to create a learning experience for students.
For this quest, I chose to play the 39 Clues ARG because I am familiar with the book series that the game is based upon, so I thought it would allow me some background before diving into the game. I had to create a Scholastic Kids account in order to play and then was introduced to the storyline: “You are a Cahill, a member of the most powerful family in history. 39 Clues hidden around the globe guard the source of the Cahills’ legendary power, and it’s up to you to find them. The hunt is on.” Next, I had to answer questions to determine which branch of the family I was (Lucian), so I could start my adventure.
This was definitely my favorite of the narrative games I played! I loved the mystery aspect and spent time puzzling together the clues to discover what happened to Anne on her journey on the Titanic. The visuals were great and the game was really interactive, but thad specific tasks for me to accomplish. I found it easier to figure out what I supposed to do than other narrative games and enjoyed the spy/secret agent theme of the game. It reminded me of the Escape Room activities that are popular in real life right now.
There are many potential educational activities with these types of games- not only does it promote good problem solving skills, but could also easily be tied into social studies or literature. For example, this game connects to a book some of my students have read and relates to a particular time in history- without any modifications. I love the interactive aspects of these types of games; I could definitely see these having a role in my classroom!
Game Type #4: Simulation Game
As a product of my 90s upbringing, I definitely played my fair share of simulation games, specifically The Sims, where I lived out daily life and challenges in my virtual world through my Sim avatar. I also loved Roller Coaster Tycoon which required that I design a theme park and monitor guest satisfaction. My childhood experiences with simulation games supported my play experience with Sim City.
I played for about 30-40 minutes and created a simple city. The interface was not as graphically pleasing as the CD-ROM version I played when I was younger, but the simple graphics were very user friendly. I quickly blew through my budget setting up my city and then had to wait for my city to start making money before I could continue playing. I thought I was making sound, fiscally-responsible decisions, but I repeatedly ended up needing something that I could not afford. (Perhaps like real cities…)
Despite my best efforts, it took a long time for my city to actually start generating any money, so to be honest I found the game much more boring than other simulation games I have played. I think if the objectives had been clearer in the beginning, I might have had more success, which remains important to remember as a teacher designing and using interactive games. If I, as an adult, need clear expectations to find success, then my students certainly will too!
Simulation games are used frequently in education in general and I have tried a few in my classroom. For a math extension option when I taught fifth grade, I used the Stock Market Game. In this game, students get $5000 to invest and track their investments based on the actual stock market. They learned about economics, interest, and returns on their investments through actual manipulation of the market. I have also had my fourth graders play the traditional Oregon Trail video game to explore different scenarios of life on the Oregon Trail. For nearly every social studies unit I teach, I create a class simulation of life during that time to allow students to explore history from the perspective of those who experienced it. However, aside from the Oregon Trail game, most of my simulations are played offline in real life. Perhaps as I gain confidence creating and exploring digital educational games, some of these simulations can be enhanced or replaced by their digital counterpart. Ultimately, simulation games bring learning to life, and thus have a strong role in today’s classrooms.
Part One: Real-Time Strategy
Real-Time Strategy games are those that involve the collection and utilization of resources as players try and control more of the game board, but in real time instead of on a turn by turn bases.
To explore the online versions, I played Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness first. The point of this game was to pit the humans against the orcs as they battle for resources and overall domination. Set in medieval times, you can build and fight using key controls. Honestly, it took me quite awhile to get the hang of the game and figure out how to go about moving and controlling my orcs. I still didn’t really understand what made this type of game unique, so I also played Shopping Street. This was much more user friendly (like it had smiley faces if people were happy and you could hear the cha-ching! of a cash register as people bought things) than either Sim City or Warcraft. For younger students, it would be a great fit.
I think these types of games have great classroom applications for social studies in particular because students can learn about resources, supply and demand, and different cultures or times in history through playing. They could also use the simulations to come to their own understandings about why countries might go to war or how class systems develop. These games could also be used to support compare and contrast studies or conflict analysis. Real-Time Strategy games are effective because they force decision making in real time, which makes the learning more authentic, because in real life you don’t get to wait until its your turn again.
Part Two: Turn-Based Strategy Game
Unlike Real-Time Strategy Games, these games allow you some planning time because instead of acting in real time, each player gets to perform their moves on their turn, only. These types of board game are mine and my family’s favorite, ones like Settlers of Catan and Carcassone dominate our family game nights. I think I prefer the board game versions of these games because I really like the interactive piece and I find it more fun to play with real people that I know, but there are so many exciting Turn-Based Strategy games out there, that the possibilities for educational applications and extensions are limitless.
To immerse myself further in this genre, I watched the Risk step by step instruction video and it really made me want to turn of my computer and host a game night! The thorough instructions and well developed game play really make it seem realistic. I like that you can pause and think about each action before you play- this would be effective for fourth graders because they can be really impulsive. Hopefully, the think time would invite reflection and problem solving.
Similar to Real-Time Strategy games, these games are effective at teaching goals and consequences, budgeting, resources, supply and demand, decision making, and cultural development. There are endless applications for civics and social studies classrooms, including running a civilization simulation and journaling about the experience.