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.Continue reading Show less
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Mechanic have definitely created a platform for learning that will appeal to many students, despite its somewhat outdated interface.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.
Key Standards Supported
Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.