Week 4 Workshop Report: Fun and educational?

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

We began this week by playing the two board game prototypes that the children had created in the previous week (Escape from Bookingville Zoo and Wolves on Ice!). Each team played the other teams game, then, using the same fun/not fun/why? metric, we did a debrief after each to discuss what worked, what didn’t and what could be improved.

We then did a feedback and discussion session to check in about the game’s priorities. Based on previous workshop discussions and exercises, we had begun to create a prototype focusing on trust in terms of risk assessment and making appropriate judgements about when and who to trust. To make sure everyone was still on board with this direction, we used a spectrogram. A spectrogram is just what it sounds like - we put a line of tape on the floor with one end representing YES! and the other NO!, with the middle representing ambivalence. Everyone then stands along the line based on how much they agree or disagree with the question at hand.

Using this spectrogram, we asked what the focus of the game should be about, beginning with the high level concept of “trust.” Everyone agreed 100% that that’s what they wanted the game to teach and focus on. We then asked more specifically what that meant, including:

  • How to find out if people / things are really what they say they are
  • How to avoid being hacked / attacked by spyware
  • Determining if you can trust an online game company
The more specific we got, the less consensus we had. When I asked why, the reasons the children gave centred around approaches that were too heavy handed, literal or “boring.” They also told us they did not want to make an “edugame.” Instead, they wanted the game to teach and engage in a way that taught something, but not in a manner that got in the way of the game being fun.
I see this as a reflection of our approach which is to teach skills that can be autonomously and critically applied, rather than just asking children to memorize online safety tips or to behave in a certain way without any reflection on why such a behaviour might be good or bad. Such an approach is not only boring for children, it does not teach reusable, fundamental skills, such as the ability to make risk and trust assessments in all aspects of life — online or otherwise. It is an approach that is not unlike teaching someone how to cook by asking them to memorize recipes rather than teaching the basics of cooking. My my experience playing platformers as a child, part of the fun of games is learning new skills, practicing them and then experiencing the satisfaction of mastering them. I think this is an opportunity to make something that is both deeply educational and deeply fun.