Review by Chad Sansing, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2017

Gamestar Mechanic

Captivating manga romp teaches kids game design

Subjects & skills
  • Math

  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: A tremendous amount of well-documented game design and pedagogical resources come for free, with premium content available to teachers and kids at a deep discount.

Cons: It allows for a lot of complexity in games but doesn't go into programming or past a handful of game genres.

Bottom Line: This terrific and affordable toolset teaches kids how to design games and shows teachers how to use games to teach.

Once they're registered, teachers and students can play missions, design games in the workshop, and share games. Teachers get management tools to see students' progress, track their work, assign projects, curate featured games, and manage class profiles from kids' workshops. During registration, you can decide whether or not to ask kids for real first and last names or to rely on usernames. You can also decide whether to unlock all available content at once or require students to play through missions and quests first, with the content as a reward.

Gamestar Mechanic Teachers is an online community that helps you learn to teach through games. It offers tutorials, materials, and lesson plans aligned to both game design and Common Core subjects. It features lessons from teacher-practitioners, which address both humanities and STEM content.

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Gamestar Mechanic is an online toolset, game, Chrome app, and community that teaches kids how to build games. It focuses on the art of visual design rather than on programming, as other game-making platforms, such as Scratch, do.

A series of manga cut-scenes and "missions" ask kids to play, fix, and make different kinds of games built around specific mechanics, like collecting points or jumping. As kids learn design, they unlock "sprites," or pieces, of the games they've mastered to use in their own game design workshops. Kids can share the games they've made with teachers and classmates, as well as the Gamestar Mechanic community, by publishing them to Game Alley.

Overall, Gamestar Mechanic is one of the best-documented and approachable game-design tools available to kids and their teachers. It partners with a number of major players in the emerging Connected Learning movement (such as the MacArthur Foundation and the Mozilla Open Badges Initiative), and its blog routinely shares useful game-based learning resources.

Kids learn in creative ways and are encouraged to be creative themselves. For example, they can customize games with their own artwork. Directions are clear and easy to follow; creations are real and playable. Kids have to think both mathematically and artistically to build games. It's a rare game that allows kids to feel true ownership over their work; Gamestar Mechanic fits the bill. Also, learning goes outside the classroom, as accounts are non-transferrable but kids can access them from home.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Kids learn about games by designing their own games. When going on missions, they unlock a steady stream of content that deepens their workshop experience.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

The in-game and on-site documentation available to kids and teachers teaches lots about game design and invites classes to incorporate whatever content they can imagine.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Clear goals always draw kids’ attention to what they should learn from each mission, and the learning guide offers dozens of conversationally written lessons to support teachers using Gamestar Mechanic.

Common Sense Reviewer
Chad Sansing Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 27 reviews) (27 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Susan E. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Eleanor Roosevelt High School
New York, United States
Great tool for getting started and engaging some learners who might not have been engaged before.
This software forced students in an engaging way to work through game design principles in order to win the sprites needed to make games. One student realized that he needed additional parts for the game he wanted to make and asked if he could go back to the tutorials to earn more "raw materials" for his own game making. Too often, these types of programs let students play without ever learning. Gamestar Mechanic is good at not doing this - especially in conjunction with the Mouse Create program.
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