Tuesday, February 12, 2008

GDC08: Assessing Skills That Emerge From Gameplay

Serious Games teaching players game design fundamentals


Via: GDC 2008 - Serious Games Summit Sessions

Serious Games Summit Session - GAMESTAR MECHANIC: Learning through Game Design

Speaker(s): Katie Salen (Parsons School of Design), Greg Trefry (Gamelab)

GAMESTAR MECHANIC, a commercial online game produced in a unique collaboration between Gamelab and the GAPPs group at University of Wisconsin at Madison, is designed to teach players the fundamentals of game design.

Designed to teach young people how to design games by giving them the tools and learning space in which to do it quickly, collaboratively, and easily, GAMESTAR proposes a model for learning that extends traditional notions around game-based learning.

In GAMESTAR players are invited into a narrative world situated within a social network to design, trade, and modify their own small, web-based games. In building games in this environment it is hoped that students not only learn about game design but about how to essentially build literacy about the systems and/or content that their games are based upon.

This session will demo the game and discuss strategies for assessment of the design-based skills that emerge from game-play, offering models for understanding what and how players are learning.


The Game Background

As part of the MacArthur Foundation’s digital media and learning initiative, the University of Wisconsin and the Advanced Academic Distributed Learning Co-Lab in Madison received two major grants. Both grants were to the members of the Games, Learning, and Society Group (GLS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with Prof. James Paul Gee as PI.

The first grant (Gamestar Mechanic) involves designing and assessing software and curricular that help young people learn about game design. The second grant (A Productive Approach to Learning and Media Literacy through Video Games and Simulations) funds basic research and proof of concept implementations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Gamestar Mechanic is a game designed to teach young people about game design, with the emphasis on design, not programming. The goal is to help young people—gamers and nongamers—learn what it is like to think about design and to think like a designer.


Game design involves a rich array of knowledge and skills. Knowing how to put together a successful game involves system-based thinking, iterative critical problem solving, art and aesthetics, writing and storytelling, interactive design, game logic and rules, and computer skills. The designer must also be a socio-technical engineer, thinking about how people will interact with the game and how the game will shape both individual, competitive, or collaborative social interaction.

Gamestar Mechanic is part of larger movement today that stresses young people as producers, not consumers of knowledge and media.


Gamestar Mechanic can be viewed as a game about “modding”, as a tool meant to engage young people with a “modding” attitude. “Modding” is the term gamers use for the practice of using the software by which games are made—software today is very often readily available when one buys a game—to modify a game, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in major ways, major enough to constitute a wholly different game.