Video games are one media form which may be difficult for children and adolescents to produce. Many will learn how to use “cheats” or learn how to modify (“mod”) a game, but creating a game from scratch requires programming skills which few have at their disposal. However, just as drafting storyboards can help students become reflective producers of comics, film and video, creating initial game designs can help them become reflective producers of video games. In this MediaLit Moment, your students will be able to try their hand at some of the essential tasks involved in games design, and they’ll also learn how to recognize the values implicit in their designs.
Have students create a basic design for a “sandbox” video game
AHA!: I’m not just making a world, my design choices also “say” something about my values and point of view!
Key Question #1 for Producers: What am I authoring?
Core Concept #1: All media messages are constructed.
Key Question #4 for Producers: Have I clearly and consistently framed values, lifestyles and points of view in my content?
Core Concept #4: What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
Grade Level: 6-12
Materials: Pencils, paper, imagination. Larger sheets of paper if students want to produce sketches of their game worlds.
Activity: Rather than restricting players to singular goals or storylines, “sandbox” games allow large groups of characters to more or less freely explore the environment of the game. Second Life and SimCity have helped to define the genre, but there are plenty of sandbox games which have been targeted towards children and teens, such as Club Penguin, Whyville, and Habbo Hotel. Begin the activity by asking students what sandbox games they’re familiar with, and discussing some of the essential characteristics of these games.
Next, organize students into groups of two or more, and let them know that they’ll be creating an initial design for a sandbox game of their choosing. Ask them to come up with a theme for their game. If SimCity is ‘about’ urban planning, what might interest them? Marine conservation? Aviation? Musical theater? If students mention the Grand Theft Auto series, you may want to affirm that criminal activity should not be a primary theme of the game. Students will also need to ask themselves, what are some of the most valuable or important things that player characters can do in this game? Once they’ve answered that question, they should decide how characters are awarded points or other benefits for experience and/or tasks completed.
Once students have had time for collaboration, ask them to share their design concepts with the rest of the class. This is also the time to ask “Why?” questions. Why this theme? Why were certain roles or professions important? Why did they decide on their particular reward “mechanic” for the game? Direct their attention to Key Question #4 for Producers. How did they frame values through their work?
Extended Activity: Depending on time, grade level or sophistication of your students, ask them to answer a few more questions. Are there any important places within the game? What purposes do they serve? If they’re cities or geographical regions, what are the most notable characteristics of the place and the people there? Ask them to create a sketch. Is there some sort of economic system within the world of the game? What goods and services are traded? Again, once they’ve completed the work, ask questions to call attention to the values, lifestyles and points of view framed within the games.
The Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of media literacy were developed as part of the Center for Media Literacy’s MediaLit Kit™ and Questions/TIPS (Q/TIPS)™ framework. Used with permission, © 2002-2011, Center for Media Literacy, http://www.medialit.com