by Kate Raynes-Goldie

Time for a quick update!

David and I have been madly working away on the latest prototype and building out the basis we’ve co-created with the children. I wanted to take a moment to share what we’ve been thinking about.

We love the wacky, playful and silly characters and world the children have created (a post with all the latest game art is coming soon, I promise). It reminds us of some of our favourite games — a few of which we played when we were younger ourselves. Since they are in line with the zany and fun tone set by the children, we’ve been drawing on the following for inspiration:

  • Glitch – a new collaborative, non-violent MMO by the creators of Flickr in collaboration with artists from around the world, including Keita Takahashi who created…
  • Katamari Damacy – a revolutionary and beautiful video game for the PS2, originally created as an art project
  • EarthBound – a quirky RPG for the SNES. Set in a world not unlike our own, the hero is a young boy uses everyday objects (frying pans, delicious snacks) to save the planet.
  • Paper Mario – another quirky RPG for SNES, staring the infamous Mario brothers.
What all these games have in common is beauty, whimsy and creativity. They’re all must plays for any aspiring game designer, especially if you’re making games for or with children.



Week 5 Workshop Report: Creating the world

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

This workshop was all focused entirely on hands on game design.

We began by testing the third prototype, a mystery story in a world similar to the X-Files , where players — as top secret spies — are not even sure if they can trust their employer. We used a Wizard of OZ -style technique, with David as the computer. The game unfolded by David telling the story and results of actions, while writing the main points on a white board.

On their own, as we played, some children had trouble focusing on the game until they grabbed sheets of paper to draw the characters they were imagining in their heads or to make notes about the mystery. In previous play tests with cards or board games, those physical pieces had been the centre of focus that brought everyone together. This need for a physical shared game space further underscored the need to make the final game a board game (or something similar).

The second key learning from this third prototype was the need to better scaffold trust decisions within the game. In this version, players would be given different clues and leads to follow. At the end of each round, as a group, players had to make a decision about who to trust. The issue, we discovered, was that the game assumed a bit too much about players already having established frameworks for making trust decisions. In other words, the trust decisions needed more scaffolding, which in turn needed to be built into the game.

After the playtest and feedback session, we began creating the species, characters and locations that would fill out the world. We decided the game would take place in an interdimensional town, where 7 different dimensions connected. Each dimension would have its own species and backstory that shape the game narrative and world. In this way, each child would get to create their own piece of the game through their own unique world, character and species. We created simple sheets for everyone to fill out. For example, the character sheet asked for the characters’ name, where they lived, their favourite hobbies and so on. Each child also drew a few pictures of their characters and other members of their species. These concept drawings and descriptions will then be passed along to our artist – Dara Gold — who will turn them into finished pieces that will make up the game world.

Stayed tuned — in the next post, I’ll be sharing the concept and finalized drawings from the game!




Guiding principles and design decisions

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

In between each weekend workshop session, David and I have been working on game prototypes that build on the direction the children have been giving us. Based on the feedback, discussions and play tests that occur during the workshops, we’ve been iterating on these designs and moving towards a final game. Part of this process has also been to decide on some guiding principles to structure or design decisions.

In designing our prototypes, we’ve been guided by the request of our child co-creation team to make a game that teaches trust and risk assessment skills which will facilitate autonomous privacy decision making. To this end, we are aiming to make a game that provides players with the experience of making these choices, with the appropriate scaffolding to guide that decision making process. In this way, players can learn, develop and practice the skills necessary to make autonomous privacy decisions online.

Drawing on the literature on decision making, learning theory and strategic planning (such as SWOT analysis and John Pijanowski’s framework for developing a moral decision making curriculum ) we identified a simplified model of decision making built on information gathering; assessment of pros and cons; and critical reflection. We then looked at ways in which individuals can gather information about websites or other online services:

  • Asking friends about their experiences
  • Asking authorities
  • Checking the websites affiliation/certification with privacy/ecommerce associations
  • Reading news reports and blog posts
  • Reading the Terms of Service or privacy policy
The following questions can then be used to guide the evaluation of the gathered information:
  • What is the motivation or goal of websites? How might that impact you?
  • What is required of you?
  • What are the trade-offs?
To map these aspects into the gameplay of the second prototype (a multidimensional board game), we created player abilities: observation, conversation, research, intuition. Players used these skills by spending ability tokens. However, after a play test, we found these were a bit too “gamey” in that they were fun, but did not give the play the experience of actually practicing those skills. In the third prototype, which I will post about in an upcoming workshop report, we built in the experience of making trust decisions but did not include enough scaffolding to help guide those decisions. We’re now working on the fourth prototype to balance out all these issues.

And lastly, we’re happy to announce we’ve decided on the format of the game: it will be a video game/board game hybrid, with potentially some physical elements. This decision informed by play tests but also a desire to make the game playable as a group while remaining as accessible (in terms of technology) as possible. By using a computer and a downloadable set of cards and game board, the game can be played at homes with a computer, at school or at the library. A board game encourages more interaction and collaboration, as well as enabling a larger group to play with one another. We are also looking into manufacturing a professionally produced version of the game (with nice game pieces, a colour game board and so on) which we can sell at cost and/or distribute for free to schools and libraries.



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.