Thursday, June 23, 2011

Allow me to hurl some birds at you

People have been telling me, as G-dcast's director, that we really ought to hurry up and put a game out. I keep replying, "Um, none of us are game designers." To which people respond, "How hard can it be? What if it was just, you know, a Jewish Angry Birds?"

Now, that may be a good idea. I love Angry Birds. The mechanic - hurling squawking birds at smug pigs in their log homes - is fun, if in a frustratingly keep-you-up-all-night way.

But I always try to look at fun ideas and ask the tough question, "So what?"

Yep, we could definitely hire some coders to make Jewish Angry Birds but then we'd have, what, a game where you hurl kosher birds at pigs? And they yell Oy!

I'm not feeling it.

G-dcast is dedicated to raising basic Jewish literacy, so we'd be better served designing a game where the fundamentals of the Bible are taught, or the orders of the Mishnah, or the names of the 12 tribes, or all the words to Aishet Chayil (which really do go by too fast!)

So I attended the Games for Change conference, thanks to generous support from AVI CHAI, to think about these ideas. What could I learn from the game designers, coders, and evaluators who are currently putting out educational, or social impact games?

From the production and creative side, thanks to the smarties at Filament Games, I learned that successful educational games shouldn't necessarily be crazy fun kitsch that appeals to millions, but rather, should more modestly adhere to standards, be web-based (so as not to require installation/technical support in school labs) and be playable in about 20 minutes.

From the assessment side, I also learned that games are more effective when they include a social component (collaborative or competitive), give a lot of feedback on players' progress, and contain tons of content that is updated regularly. I also heard some deflating results from researchers who find that while students using educational games experience delight, increased engagement and other "positive affect," there is not necessarily a huge amount of proven enhanced learning outcomes when compared to other methods of electronic tutoring.

I left feeling that perhaps we have the more effective, or at least more efficient solution at G-dcast right now, when we animate Jewish texts in short films. We leave the interactivity to the teachers and parents who implement our curriculum or make up their own discussion triggers after the films.

This is a positive outcome of my conference attendance, by the way. Learning that you might not want to do something is an important takeaway. And I'm not done evaluating the notion of doing a game, but I'm considering doing something far simpler than I might have otherwise done.

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