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Bringing Games into the Classroom: How to teach kids about Katrina

August 4, 2008

This is the third post in a series about using games and game design in the classroom.

Carcassonne Game is a great game by Rio Grande Games and designed by Klaus Jurgen Wrene. It’s a simple tile-laying game that virtually anyone can play. In a nutshell, you and one or more other players pick up tiles and match them up to build castles, roads, abbeys and farms which you then take ownership of for points.

You can probably tell just by looking at the board how it plays.

What does this have to do with Katrina?

Here’s how I use the game – and many other games – in game design workshops with students and educators. I have them play Carcassonne Gameto understand how it works. It’s a fun game and not at all like Monopoly or Sorry or other games you may have played when you were younger (or last Thanksgiving). Then, I suggest that they make a modification of the game (called a “mod” in the game community) based on a topic that is of interest to them. That last phrase there, “of interest to them”, is usually rife with all kinds of things about which the game community needs little exploration. So, I tell them I want something new that shows the power of games as a medium. Spare me the zombies, space marines, pirates, ninjas, etc. I play enough of that when I get home.

The goal here, for me anyway, is to use games and their incredible hook to get students to research a subject that you, as the educator, want them to learn about.

So, if Carcassonne can be used to build a French walled city of the same name, why couldn’t it also be modified to allow students to build a post-Katrina New Orleans? It can be, and in the process, your students will learn a whole lot about New Orleans, Katrina, rebuilding, game design and teamwork.

In order to complete this mod, they will likely need to:

  • Develop a goal for the game (the more you rebuild, the more points you get?)
  • Add a mechanic (the game industry’s word for “rule”) or two to the game to allow people to buy or otherwise earn resources with which to build.
  • Research the city of New Orleans to determine the overall structural layout of the board.
  • Create the tiles using their own design (Carcassonne has a full listing of the various rule pieces on its rule set)
  • Work together as a team to build the game and test it.

Ultimately, allow time in class for students to play and learn from the work of other groups. Using this exercise, I’ve seen students create interesting games about Shaka Zulu, food politics, New Orleans, sea faring discovery and many more. And they’ll be into this way more than you can imagine because it’s their game. It’s something they created.

How will you know if it’s good? It depends on what your outcome is. If you’re teaching a class in game design, that’s one thing. If your goal is to have them learn about something, then test that outcome anyway you like. You’ll be surprised with the results.

To be continued…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2008 3:20 am

    …and then when you become a game designer, the tables turn and you start turning everything you read about into a game.

    I’m currently researching police interrogations for a short story I’m writing about one, and was just musing how well the Reid system of interrogation procedure works both as the basis for scene structure AND as the basis for a game…

    Also, I bought a travel version of Carcassonne while in Boston, and it became very popular with some of my students. I consistently beat them at it too, and remain nearly undefeated. 😉
    So thanks for introducing me to the game.

  2. August 20, 2008 11:41 am

    I like this idea alot. It could be played as a post-disaster puzzle with a top-layer of cards that have to be gradually removed from the tiles below in order to see the ground… simulating the retreating water of the flood. As this top-layer is removed each of the removed pieces reveals something that has been carried away by the water… The goal could be to unite families and their properties. And also to restore the original landscape. Every found or rescued piece would be assigned a value in points, while uniting related pieces would bring in bonus points. For example: rescuing husband (5 points), rescuing his wife (5 points) too, multiplies both points and makes 25 points in total. Each individual player would represent an independent research group that acts on its own behalf, but the game would permit cooperation and only a group victory (the combined score), because it would feel rather bad if players compete in something that is regarded as human aid. So it would be basically a “team game” that still preserves bragging rights to the better players based on individual performance.

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