CS 491 Meeting 1: Game Development for Computer Science Education

Dear students,

Welcome to CS 491: Game Development for Computer Science Education. I summarize this class with one sentence: let’s teach machines to teach people. This is a project-based class—meaning that we will spend very little time in lecture and a lot of time building games to help people learn computer science concepts.

This class has no textbook, no exams, not even a syllabus! To satisfactorily complete it, you will construct a game over the next 15 weeks and submit it for presentation at an education or games conference of your choosing. You are not required to actually present your work, but it would be awesome if you did. You are free to choose the lessons you would like your players to learn. You are also free to choose the technologies you use to implement your game, provided it can be played in a wide variety of environments.

In class today we will complete a game design warmup exercise, I will demo the games I’ve been working on, and we will chart our paths forward.

Imagine you are on the beach hanging out with your 10-year-old nephew or niece. You are walking along, looking for treasure, when you stumble across a tuft of black fabric poking out of the sand. You and your relative set to work digging out the object, only to find a backpack full of strange things:

  • 50 empty lidded film canisters
  • a balance scale
  • a bag of popcorn seeds
  • a skein of yarn

At the bottom of the bag is a note on which is scrawled this message:

This is how I will revolutionize computer science education! But first, I must silence these waves.

The owner of the bag doesn’t appear to be around, and the waves are still crashing. As a computer scientist, you feel like the best thing to do right now is teach your relative some lesson of computer science with the materials at your disposal. With a partner, spend 5 minutes flash-designing such a lesson. Don’t worry too much about it being clever or perfect. After 5 minutes, you will give a short demonstration of your lesson…

Next I will share with you a couple of games I have been working on: Rator Vaders and Trux Falsy. Both are works in progress. I don’t know if they are good, but I think this class will help me make them good.

Red mages are good at lots of different things: black magic, white magic, and slinging a sword. Game designers need to be red mages, so each week I will ask you to do three things: make progress on your game, read something related to games and education, and watch something related to games and education. I believe we need to create something of our own and listen to others at the same time.

Here’s your TODO list:

  • Your Create Task is to draft up a game idea. What concept or concepts do you want to help people learn? How can you design an interactive experience for your players to learn those concepts? Be prepared to present a short informal sketch of the game to the entire class.
  • Your Read Task is to check out What makes things fun to learn?, an early and accessible paper on digital games by Thomas Malone at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, the same folks who gave us GUIs and mice, amonst other things. If accessed on campus, the ACM Digital Library will let you download this 8-page PDF for free.
  • Your Watch Task is to learn what game designer Jesse Schell thinks game designers should know about the future of learning games:

Jot down some reactions or observations from your reading and watching on a 1/4-sheet of paper to be turned in next time we meet.

Sincerely,

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