Website review by James Denby, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2017

Gamestar Mechanic

Engaging manga-themed quest to become a game designer

Learning rating
Editorial review by Common Sense Education
Community rating
Based on 27 reviews
Privacy rating
Not yet rated Expert evaluation by Common Sense
Grades
3–8 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.
Subjects & Skills
Math, Creativity, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Appealing storyline and games for students to play and learn from. Breaks down game design into simple elements.

Cons: Perhaps too much gameplay for classroom use without enough emphasis on concept learning.

Bottom Line: Game design quests have everything students want but perhaps not everything teachers need.

Gamestar Mechanic is definitely appealing to students of many ages, but for most teachers, it's probably too much of a niche product for the classroom. Because there's so much gameplay before students actually begin learning about game design, most teachers would probably use it either as an extension activity or as part of club for students who are really passionate about game design.

The site doesn't include any elements of coding but instead focuses on design, so, although there's a clear connection between computational thinking and game design, most teachers will find it tough to carve out space for it in their curriculum. One option could be to give access to kids incrementally and require students to play through missions and quests first before diving into the other content. And teachers could focus on metacognition around how students think through the design process.

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Gamestar Mechanic is a manga-themed website, 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. Once they're registered, teachers and students can play missions, design games in the workshop, and share games. During registration, you can decide whether or not to ask kids for real first and last names or to rely on usernames. Teachers get management tools to see students' progress, track their work, assign projects, curate featured games, and manage class profiles from kids' workshops.

Students play simple games while learning to identify the elements that make a game fun, challenging, difficult, or even impossible to play. Through game quests, they accumulate the tools and components they need to design their own games: building blocks, timers, barriers, etc. At different stages in the quest, they repair "broken" game elements, experiment with perspective, and set rules as they become "mechanics." Once they complete their first quest, students are able to earn sprites (characters for their games) and create and publish their own games to the Gamestar Mechanic community. 

The creators of Gamestar Mechanic have definitely created a platform for learning that will appeal to many students, despite its somewhat outdated interface. From the manga theme of the quest to the games themselves, you won't have trouble getting students to use the site. There's a lot of play, however, before students really start building games, so this may limit it as a learning tool in most classrooms.

Despite its limitations, it offers lots of opportunities to be creative and for students to really take ownership of their work. It also does a great job of slowly introducing students to the elements of game design in a step-by-step fashion. Students will start to see the components that so many games share and that are essential not only to a game's function, but also to its appeal to players. This approach is a great tie-in to computational thinking and problem-solving for students of any age. Teachers could use this as a springboard to explore computational thinking in a deeper way, but they'll have to make the connection clear for students and find ways to use the platform that capitalize on the learning content.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Almost every student will enjoy Gamestar Mechanic's quest-style learning and the games that are part of the learning process. 

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

Gamestar Mechanic breaks down game design into an easy-to-understand process, but it includes more simple gameplay than most teachers would be able to justify in the classroom.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

Gamestar Mechanic provides clear goals and a step-by-step approach to game design and game building, and the learning guide offers conversationally written lessons to support teachers using Gamestar Mechanic.


Common Sense reviewer
James Denby Educator/Curriculum Developer

Community Rating

(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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