maker | designer | educator

Games and (Art) Education

I wasn’t surprised by the outcome of my MMORPG Bartle personality test: Explorer. In my group of gamer friends we talk about the big split in RPG gamers as Loreists/Explorers vs Make the Numbers Biggers. This was really apparent when we all played Skyrim (super-popular Sandbox RPG that is the 5th installment in The Elder Scrolls series by Bethesda). Loreists and Explorers really appreciate the immersive qualities of a game, the commitment to good storytelling, the beauty of the graphics and animations, etc. Make the Numbers Big players enjoy metagaming and essentially breaking the game by creating overpowered (OP) gear or otherwise “gaming” the leveling system to beat the game as hard as possible. An example of this was my roommate drinking a potion of Alchemy, then making a potion of Blacksmithing and smithing armor that would increase his Alchemy level over and over again, until he had a set of armor that allowed him to create insanely powerful potions and then using that set of armor to make an ultimate blacksmithing potion and…this would take a while to explain. Ok, so Alchemy can makes potions that buff skills. Blacksmithing allows you to craft more powerful armor and weapons. Enchanting lets you add magical effects and skill buffs to items (like +20% Alchemy to a pair of gauntlets). He went back and forth between all of those using them to make items stronger and stronger and raise his skills far above what it would naturally be, until he made armor that had a armor rating so high, the screen didn’t have enough spots for the numbers. This type of gaming doesn’t appeal to me, and it’s not my raison d’gaming. I love learning new things and finding cool, hidden stuff in games and in real life, so that Explorer personality definitely bleeds over into how I learn. I have spent so much time on Wikipedia just reading random stuff that I’m curious about…

Chris Haskell: Blowing Up the Grade Book

All students ask the natural question ‘What do I need to do to get the grade that I want?’, rather than what is worth knowing or doing?

I’d add that it’s often not the student motivating themselves to get the grade, but their parents’ (or other adults’) expectations. Most of the things I remember or were “worth knowing” were things that I sought out on my own. Sure there’s plenty of dumb rote facts floating around in my brain like “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue”, but that’s not in the grand scope of things an important fact in the history of North America. School was all too often just jumping through hoops and propaganda and I resent that to this day.

1:40 When he’s talking about quizzes, he says that “all we do is teach them to fail.” I think that might be a slip of the tongue. The way in which we penalize mistakes in school can cause students to become risk-adverse. We teach them to be afraid to fail.

I’m definitely a fan of limiting homework, but still think that certain things need to happen outside of class time. I don’t want students to be wasting time in studio thinking of concepts for their work. I am also in favor of more flexible due dates. Many art professors choose to not have set due dates for every project, but engage in weekly class reviews of what students have been working on, as well as an informal critique. When a process or concept has been completed then a formal review takes place and the work might be graded. Many professors have a very subjective grading system that they update based on the weekly review with the student where hey gauge how much effort the student is putting in and how much they are growing as an artist. I’d like to have a similar loose deadline system with my future students.

Quest-based learning sounds really awesome. You can look at how popular XBox Live and Steam achievements are and how they motivate people of all ages. Achievement-based assessment makes a lot of sense. Two students could get an identical grade on a paper, but have very different things that they need to work on, and this might be reflected in a rubric, but not in the grade they get. I’m also really excited with his amazing results and want to look into his research at Boise State. The 3D Game Lab looks a lot like Khan Academy and DIY (see below). All use achievements, progress bars, XP, etc. and are self-paced.


DIY-LogoDIY.org turns acquiring IRL skills (Art, Athletics, Building, Business, Citizenship, Design, Engineering, Exploring, Growing, Hacking, Philosophy, and Science) into a game. It’s like scouting for the modern era, complete with really beautiful badges for achievements that you can buy as actual embroidered patches to put on you stuff. This would be a great resource for differentiated-learning, my students could pick whatever skill they wanted to level up, as long as they could relate it to visual art. They could work on stop motion animation, experiment with homemade camera lenses, make a monoprint, explore surrealism, do life casting, craft things from paper, illustrate monsters, collect data and make an infographic or a map, there are so many projects. It’s easy to use, and has a nice social aspect. Kids post videos and photos of their finished projects that can be favorited or commented on. It’s a thriving community with more than 400,000 kids participating. There are student, parent, and educator accounts, free and premium. Students also get experience in making a digital portfolio. I also really loved their page that was dedicated to digital citizenship and community rules in frank and kid-friendly language.

Ludum Dare and Creating Games

Ludum Dare is the largest and longest on going game jam (wooo 12 years!). Every April, August, and December developers from around the world spend a weekend creating games based on a theme. Here’s some gameplay from a couple games from the last one. The theme was PONG:

Pong Knights

Flappy Pong

Pong Fortress

It’s a great web resource that provides links to everything someone would need to make a game, from simple freeware like GIMP to premium game engines like Unity. It’s how I found out about wonderful game engines/creators like GameMaker: Studio, Construct2, and Stencyl. Teachers could use the idea of Ludum Dare or even use the theme of that month’s Ludum Dare for their game assingment. You wouldn’t only give the students one weekend to churn out a game though…but the idea of a game jam is neat. Creativity, especially group creativity, can be aided by working in short, intense spurts. This can happen naturally, or be spurred on by some sort of goal or deadline.

By having the students make a game, you can have them rotate through different modules that play to their interests: character design, storyboarding, backgrounds, level design, sound design, etc. all coming together in a final group or class project. It could even be interdisciplinary if any of the computer science students wanted to collaborate with an art student and use their sprite designs or backgrounds, etc. Here’s what a teacher at William Annin Middle School in New Jersey had to say about GameMaker Studio:

I utilize a Quest-based learning management system for my course. Students complete and submit quests in an incremental manner. A number of the quests provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding and ability to accomplish certain tasks / skills in gamemaker. They’re final games are evaluated as their game in progress and their completed game based on a rubric that looks at the aesthetics of the game, the storyline / game information, playability (and re-playability), increasing level of challenge, programming concepts incorporated, etc. Students evaluate each other’s games and provide feedback throughout the process…Sometimes I receive ‘complaints’ from parents that their child has ‘too much homework’ for my class. Incidentally, I do not assign homework. Any work completed at home is by choice and based on motivation.

That is an awesome endorsement! The other two game engines I looked at were Construct2 and Stencyl. Construct2 builds really beautiful 2D games and is free for a limited license or $259.99/year for an unlimited site license. Stencyl offers a free Educator’s Kit with a built-in curriculum, and $149/year/classroom and uses a block-snapping interface similar to MIT’s Scratch.

Games As Art

There are many wonderful science and physics games, but when I was looking for an equivalent that dealt with art history or art concepts, I could only find really lame flip card or quiz game type apps that weren’t well designed, and frankly weren’t fun. They paid lip-service to the idea of games. Oregon Trail was a better educational game, it was fun and at least I know what dysentery is because of it. Educational games are one thing, but there’s also the possibility of using games that aren’t strictly educational to teach artistic concepts. Games AS art is in itself a very important, emerging idea. By playing and analyzing games in the art classroom, we can discuss art theory, game design, animation, art history, and all sorts of other great things. Is this gamification? No, but it’s definitely utilizing technology to help teach art in a novel, relevant, and interesting fashion. I would consider the following games good examples of Games As Art (not all are all ages games, Limbo and Heavy Rain are both mature I think, older kids can definitely handle Limbo though):



Limbo (trigger warning: fictional violence and gore)

This game is absolutely GRUESOME and very visceral, and would definitely be controversial if used in an educational setting. That being said, we read plenty of controversial and gruesome things in Language Arts, Lord of the Flies (read in 10th grade) and Fahrenheit 451 (read in 9th grade) come to mind, and those books definitely have educational value.

Monument Valley

The Cat and the Coup



This War of Mine

Would be awesome to talk about how the theme of war is dealt with in various media throughout the ages like Washington Crossing the Delaware, to that triumphant portrait of Napoleon,  Goya’s The Third of May 1808, depictions of the Battle of Dannoura, Picasso’s Guernica, etc. Media literacy is super important and art can play such a big role in teaching it!)

Dear Esther


That Dragon, Cancer


Shadow of the Colossus

Papers, Please


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1 Comment

  1. Rosemary Talab Apr 12, 2015

    This was so far above stellar!! It was inter-galactic. It was so impressive and so passionate. THANKS!

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