Orbiters is now in its 3rd incarnation. It’s gone through many changes since December — here’s a short account of some of the design challenges and solutions that have shaped those changes.
Information requires context in order to be meaningful.
From this idea follow a couple of points worth discussing: (1) that games can provide something crucial to the learning experience and (2), that the choice of context in learning games matters enormously.
The other day, I saw one of those shareable quotes on Facebook – a particularly whiny one – to this effect: Another day and I still haven’t used that algebra they made me learn in high school. Apparently you can also pay money to have this sentiment printed on a tee shirt for you. I remember hearing a lot of the same sort of whining in school, with students wondering why they needed to learn algebra (among other things), and it seems like some people, long after graduating, are still nurturing a lingering resentment for what seemed like a waste of time when they were 16.
As an educator, I’ve sometimes had the feeling that technology in school was an end in itself rather than a means to better learning experiences. Perhaps you’ve been there, too.
Technology absolutely has its place in learning. A big place, even, especially when it comes to digital games. But I’ve had two occasions this week to think about the place of games that don’t require modern technology, and to consider that they might be undervalued in the exploding field of educational gaming.
For this long-time language teacher, the game that teaches language skills is something of a holy grail. In the past few years, the classes I’ve taught haven’t been focused so much on language acquisition and grammar as on cultural understanding; with students already at least moderately conversational in the target language, I was able to design games that focused on other concepts (international conflict, the immigrant experience). But the game that teaches language is always in the back of my mind.
William and I are in the middle of a game of Napoleon’s Triumph, the hard-to-find board game that models the battle of Austerlitz. The game jumped to the front of our to-play list when William finally acquired a copy in excellent condition two weeks ago, and after a few hours of tense in-game decision-making, we are already much impressed.
William and I had a conversation about game aesthetics on Saturday, in the context of a board game meet-up where he acquired a game he had long yearned for, but which is out of print and difficult to find. The game is called Napoleon’s Triumph, and it models the battle of Austerlitz (with some ingenious mechanics, by the way).
This week, Isaac Joslin of the University of Denver reports on playtesting Sans-Papiers with his students. Isaac is a specialist in African francophone literature and film, and this course dealt specifically with the immigrant experience in France. Check out his bio at DU’s website. Here’s what he has to say about the game:
Sans-Papiers: role-playing and social realism in the language and culture classroom
By Isaac Joslin – University of Denver
Sans-Papiers is a role-playing game about being an undocumented immigrant in France. French president François Hollande officially inaugurated the Musée de l’histoire de l’immigration last December, and there’s been a mix of stories about immigrants in the French news lately: in March, a young undocumented Albanian man won the prestigious “best apprentice in France” medal; France is taking some serious criticism for its treatment of Roma people; and of course, the far-right nationalist party known as the National Front has gained a surprising, or alarming, amount of political ground over the past year. There have also been a staggering number of deaths at sea of immigrant hopefuls trying to cross the Mediterranean in small, fragile crafts.
As promised, today the students had a last game of EU v. Russia, which one of the them joyously re-baptized “Pride and Presidents.” Two games ran simultaneously (A and B, 6 students and 7 students), and took just about the whole 50-minute period, although I did have to start timing Russia A, who had adopted a stalling tactic.
Both games were close, but Russia squeaked by for the win in each case. That makes Russia undefeated in the eight games we’ve played over four sessions. Although some games have come down to a single victory point’s difference in the final score, Russia’s clear in-game advantage is something I’ve been working to balance out – to an extent – for several weeks.