Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chemical Development

-Laura Andersen

Approaching Educational Game Design

Gaming is an important aspect to education in every stage of development.  From social behavior, memory exercises, science & mathematics, to art, storytelling and anything in between, a well-designed game can teach a child so much more richly than just rote memorization alone.  Because of the effectiveness of gaming in education, it is exceedingly important to hold these games to the highest standard so they are as educational as possible, entertaining, and do not come off as patronizing to the audience.  Chem 101, our first educational game at Inspired Press, is proving to be a fantastic challenge in these respects.

In Chem 101, players will build molecular compounds with element and bond cards, following a set of rules that are intrinsic to the subject matter.  Designing this game has required us to not only take a critical look back on what we learned about chemistry in high school, but also to consider how an educator might use this game in the class room most effectively for the students who pick things up more quickly, the more meticulous learners, and the myriad levels of intermediate students.

Approaching the game’s design in this way has led to some very interesting results. In order to convey all the information inherent to an element in such a way so that every student can construct a compound even if they are just beginning to learn chemistry, we had to reexamine the shape of a traditional playing card.  Not only are we now able to fit all of that information in an easy to interpret way, but the new shape also lends itself to lessons in how molecules naturally form.

The Trouble with Points Systems

Developing a point system has also been an interesting challenge. It is exceptionally important in any educational game for the point system to feel organic to those playing.  If not, the players can feel, patronized, overwhelmed, or not engaged at all.  In Chem 101 we are developing a points system based on the complexity and density of the molecule. So far this points system has displayed a tendency for better understanding of the structure and strength of the molecules due to the different type of bonds.

We feel we would be short of the games potential to set its goal to something as simple as “first to 100 points.”  So, the win conditions of the game will be versatile, to keep the players coming back.  Through game development it has become increasingly apparent that there is a chance here to provide a sense of agency for the students while giving the educators an in-depth multilevel teaching tool. It may take more time to fully develop the game, but I for one believe the meticulous development phase of this game will lead to a phenomenal reward for teachers and students alike.